What to Do About ‘The Media Herd?’

By Alex Weprin 

In his column this week, Washington Post media writer Howard Kurtz tackles “The Media Herd,” the tendency for journalists and media organizations to cling onto a narrative and stick with it, welcome or not, beneficial or not, correct or not.

You hear their thundering hooves on cable shows and talk radio, watch the gathering dust on the blogs. They trample everything in their path. Passivity is impossible: Everyone must form an immediate opinion on the matter at hand and defend it passionately.

While Kurtz’s piece does not focus on the cable news channels specifically, it is easy to see where they fit in.


Kurtz’s article begs the question, what can be done about the herd? And do we even want to try and stop it?

Having the media all jump on a story often delivers results, for better or for worse. Sometime the fear of the media jumping on a story will get results, look no further than the case of Shirley Sherrod for a text book example.

So the herd is not all bad. The problem comes when the herd jumps on a story of questionable importance, or ignores a story that deserves serious coverage.

Kurtz gives the example of jetBlue flight attendant Steven Slater as a story that did not deserve the coverage it received, and the pullout from Iraq that should have been given more coverage, except on MSNBC, which was wall-to-wall thanks largely to Richard Engel’s reporting from the final convoy.

What do you think, should the cable news channels refrain from covering questionable stories ad nasueum? Or are they something viewers want to watch?