Break Your News Bubble, Columnist Bruni Begs
Frank Bruni is an op-ed columnist for The New York Times, or as President Trump calls it, "The Failing New York Times."
Have you been outside your news bubble today? I ask because that’s what New York Times columnist Frank Bruni challenged us all to do, in a recent talk he gave in Minneapolis called “Media in the Age of Misinformation.”
His thesis: There is no common square any more where people consume and consider common ideas; rather each person is in his or her own news bubble, reading only what reinforces each person’s own biases. As President Trump neared his first 100 days in office this week, with the electorate sharply divided over how well he’s done, it seemed a good topic to discuss.
Bruni was introduced at the Westminster Town Hall Forum last month as an op-ed columnist for The New York Times. When he came to the podium, he said he had a correction. “I’m not an op-ed columnist for the New York Times. I’m an op-ed columnist for the FAILING New York Times,” a reference to Trump’s favorite adjective whenever he tweets about the paper, at least in his early days in office.
As Bruni puts it, social media platforms allow people to take a narrow view of the world. “They follow the Twitter feeds of people they agree with,” he says. “Social media doesn’t challenge you, it coddles you. You exist in a customized cocoon, in which you’ll quickly lose the ability to see someone else’s point of view.”
He said Netflix is exploring technology that will allow viewers to choose their own plot lines of their favorite shows. “You used to be a consumer of reality; now you’re a designer of reality,” he said.
Even the New York Times is doing some tinkering so that by mid-year readers can customize the news they get online, he said. Top editors will select a core of 20 stories, he said, but beyond that he believes it’s another road to the same end. “Part of a society bond comes from the shared experience of consuming the same news,” he said.
It was here that he lost me: Whenever people hanker back to the “good old days” when everyone supposedly watched the same three middle-aged white men delivering the same news on the same three TV broadcasts, I demur—the wide-open world of ideas the internet ushered in is far, far better, I believe.
I also noted he was preaching to the choir, to the mostly white, mostly affluent, mostly retired, likely mostly liberal audience that attends the Westminster Town Hall regular events, who were nodding along and clapping—together—at all the appropriate moments.
But he’s got a point when he challenged listeners to resist subscribing to “The Daily Me,” as he said staffers have nicknamed their new customized online news feed. “What’s happened to the Daily Us,” he said. “Without the public square, what becomes of public discourse?”