The sound and fury of a media frenzy

I return from five enjoyable days in the woods to find the Asheville media world’s pulled out the long knives over the inappropriate use of Twitter. We do love to hear ourselves talk, don’t we?

For those of you who have, probably blessedly, so far escaped the frenzy, here’s what’s going on. Xpress correspondent Michael Muller is widely known for mixing bawdy humor and random commentary with actual news on the mxnews Twitter account. Last Wednesday, he made some cracks that some believed crossed the line and publisher Jeff Fobes opened the topic up for discussion. Did Muller cross “the line” — wherever that lies?

Citizen-Timeser Jason Sandford over at Ashevegas certainly thought so and said that Xpress was killing its credibility with such material. Sandford even went to print with the topic. I think the talk of credibility killing is a bit extreme, especially as Ashevegas isn’t averse to a snarky approach from time to time. I’d also like to know, besides Muller, what unspecified “Xpressers” he was targeting for his criticism, but he and Muller’s other critics have a point.

I’ve been on Twitter for awhile now, using it for everything from communicating with friends to talking about ideas to, yes, covering the news. For all the sophomoric content that can go out over it sometimes, I think it’s an important tool, I like how Xpress has embraced that and I’ve been proud to take a role in pushing some initiatives like live coverage of local government meetings. The hashtags Xpress set up have become an open ground for people from around the community to put in their news and other offerings, and I’m happy to see that too.

But, in new media as in old, there are lines. I believe the news account should be used for news. Period. That’s what I’ve used it for and will continue to. I say things on my personal account I would never in a million years put up on mxnews because it’s not simply my playground to do with as I please. When I’m writing there, it’s as the voice of an organization that has to reach out to many different segments of the population and, most importantly, get the damn news out.

Muller’s a friend and a man of many talents. I appreciate his sense of humor, even when it’s not to my taste (admittedly, this is often). But mxnews isn’t the place for it, and I’m glad there’s now mxshow to provide a more tongue-in-cheek outlet. I’m glad that a firmer standard’s been applied to some pretty nebulous territory, and I’m glad Fobes made the debate public. These are uncharted waters, and people of good intent can have widely differing opinions over how to best navigate them.

Still, the mediarati, Xpress or otherwise, that communicate over Twitter and launch into these disputes is an extremely small fragment of the population. Many of them know Muller and his sense of humor, and that’s where many of his defenders come from when they ask Xpress to lighten up. Well, not everything’s a joke, much less an inside one. Someone unfamiliar with Twitter looking for some good, quick news might expect mxnews to be full of, well, news instead of satirical ranting. They would be right.

At the end of the day it’s not about us, and prolonging the discussion into vicious internecine navel-gazing serves no one. As I write this, there are 75 comments on the original post. We live in a city where nearly a quarter of the populace live in poverty. There are issues of government, power, race, the environment and countless other topics, often ignored in the “happiest place in America” image, that face us every day. It’s our job as reporters, in whatever small way, to try to tackle those, bringing them to light as best we know how. I’d much rather see 75 comments on any of those than this fracas.

To say the whole mess, on both sides, has started to resemble Shakespeare’s line — “full of sound and fury, signifying nothing” — would be an understatement.

Honestly, I’ve probably only fueled that further by writing this. So enough said. I’m getting back to work.

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2 thoughts on “The sound and fury of a media frenzy

  1. Betty Cloer Wallace

    I agree with David Forbes. This is an example of the star quality of the messenger becoming more important than the news itself—and carried to the extreme.

    I remember, several national political conventions ago, when I first noticed this trend, still in its infancy. CNN news “translators” were “interpreting” the speeches of the presidential candidates even while the (muted) candidates were still speaking, as if the thoughts of the “reporters” were more cogent than those of the candidates or viewers. I remember just wanting the chattering “reporters” to shut the hell up so I could hear the candidates’ speeches for myself.

    Tweeting ought to be behind-the-scenes “work product” for collecting and sorting news, not humor-added “end product.”

    Save the social commentary for, well, social commentary.

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