Does Twitter put limitations on discussions of race?

Herman Cain, former Republican presidential nominee (Gage Skidmore/Wikimedia Commons)

Herman Cain, former Republican presidential nominee (Gage Skidmore/Wikimedia Commons)

Twitter’s rapid-fire capabilities and its character limitations often make for regrettable outbursts and narrow-minded generalities, especially when it comes to race in media and politics. Eric Deggans at Poynter suggests that the medium limits — maybe even distorts — the discussion of such topics, especially when tempers heat up.

In one Tweet, Tim Graham of and Media Research Center wrote, “MSNBC touting Karen Finney as another African-American host. Would the average viewer be able to guess that? Or is Boehner a shade more tan?” For Deggans, the comment smacked of an old school notion of diversity in the newsroom and “whether a media outlet will ‘get credit’ for a person of color who doesn’t resemble what some expect black and brown people to look like.”

In another Tweet, the deeply conservative musician Charlie Daniels wrote, “Funny how if you say something against Herman Cain you’re a genius If you say something against Barack Obama you’re a racist.” Deggans’ take was that the comment implies all black politicians are the same, regardless of political record.

The foot-in-mouth virus of Twitter is probably not surprising to many of its users, though. One commenter even responded:

“I understand your frustration at the reactions to your tweets, but that does not explain how Twitter was limited in this circumstance. The only thing I read is that you received a deluge of responses from Mr. Grahams followers. I have often seen this happen in comment sections to stories, so I don’t think it is something unique to twitter.”

MSNBC’s Chris Hayes maintains diversity on show

MSNBC host Chris Hayes has figured out a way to increase diversity on his show: he makes sure that not all of his guests are white men. Columbia Journalism Review’s Ann Friedman interviewed Hayes after reading a Media Matters chart that showed that 57 percent of Hayes’ guests are not white men.

“We just would look at the board and say, ‘We already have too many white men. We can’t have more.’ Really that was it,” Hayes said. “Always, constantly just counting. Monitoring the diversity of the guests along gender lines, and along race and ethnicity lines. A general rule is if there are four people sitting at table, only two of them can be white men.”

They also make up for shows when they can’t book fewer than three white men. Hayes also said that the increased diversity of the guests inevitably increases the diversity of the subject matter discussed on the show, pushing him further away from the television news status quo.

While diversity remains a passive-aggressive issue with the media, Hayes’ primetime show keeps it simple by realizing there’s no difficult secret to avoiding a monopoly of white dudes.

Trayvon Martin coverage offers lessons in covering diversity

Trayvon Martin's father and mother. (David Shankbone: Wikimedia Commons)

Trayvon Martin’s father and mother. (Credit: David Shankbone/Wikimedia Commons)

For the one-year anniversary of the death of Florida teenager Trayvon Martin, Eric Deggans at Poynter has a piece laying out takeaways from how the media covered the race issues involved in the story. He notes the process of how reporters gradually started to define the heroes and villains of the situation.

Journalists, he says, are driven by social justice imperatives, hoping to add context to their stories with diverse points of view (i.e. journalists of color weighing in on the more metaphysical layers of racial discrimination existent in America).  Most of all, he says, publications and reporters hope to be first to print big scoops, evident in how CNN used audio analysis of a 911 call to falsely say that Zimmerman had used a racial slur.

Deggans also discusses a “myth of life” view that reporters sometimes get during these troublesome stories, as if the killing of an unarmed black teenager violates the notions of how people believe life works. According to him, online media perpetuates the “myth of life” approach: “With so few nuggets of news connected to the real questions the audience wants answered, a default for some media outlets can involve talking about ancillary issues, which distract and complicate.”

His conclusion: “In the Martin case, the toughest task journalists may face is ignoring the perceptions and judgments of the outside world to focus on telling the most accurate, incisive stories possible.”