The Sorry State of Political Journalism


Here we go again...

Not even NPR is immune anymore.

This morning, WBUR, a NPR affiliate radio station in Boston, broadcast a story about the results of a poll about U.S. Senator Scott Brown and his likely Democratic opponent Elizabeth Warren.

The story reported that the two candidates were neck-and-neck.  But the content of the piece centered on two major themes: money and biography.  In other words, how much cash they had raised, spent and earned and which candidate was more “middle class.”

From the story:

‘Political newcomer Warren surprised the establishment when she raised millions of dollars in both of the last two quarters. She’s used that money to buy TV ads, and based on conversations with voters, the ads seem to be working.”‘

And this:

‘At a time when the middle class feels under siege, much of this Senate race has been about who is more “middle class.”’

The story went on to explore the personal history of each candidate to make the case for their middle class roots.  For example, Brown receiving “government subsidized lunches” at school when he was a boy and Warren needing a scholarship to get through college because of the declining economic fortunes of her family.

The story even went into detail about where they live and the value of their houses.

The reporter (and the poll) even asked citizens if they believed Warren and Brown were middle class as if that distinction was there for them to give.

Missing from report?

I’m sure you can guess.  Substance.  There was no reporting on where the candidates stand on the issues.  What is Brown’s platform?  What is his voting record?  What policies of Brown’s does Warren disagree with?  What is her platform?  What do each of these candidates believe in?  What is their vision?

None of this is in the story.  But we do learn that Brown made $700,000 as an advance for writing his biography and that Warren earned more than $500,000 last year.

I don’t mean to pick on WBUR because they generally are among the best media outlets (that’s why I’m an avid listener and donate to the station).  But this is an example of how the mass media is now covering politics.  It’s about money.  It’s about who has the best story.  It’s about personalities.  It’s about insider strategy and whose message is penetrating.

It’s no longer about ideas, innovation or vision.

On the national level, we are bombarded by money-raising efforts, internal strife, petty bickering, strategy shifts and a constant stream of unsolicited political advice from “experts” – usually ex-consultants for Democrats and Republicans.  You’ll be hard pressed to find hard-hitting journalism on the ideas and policies supported and opposed by the candidates.

Is it any wonder why the electorate is confused?  Why the general public doesn’t fully understand the issues?

The media need to move beyond this tit-for-tat political reporting and return to the fundamentals of journalism.  As I’ve noted before journalism is getting beneath the news.  It’s investigation, analysis and thoughtful commentary.  It’s in-depth expository reporting.  It is what traditional media can do much better than bloggers and social media pundits – who are providing dump trucks worth of reactionary reporting.

Yes, political journalism costs money and is time-consuming.  But without it, traditional media becomes less valuable.  We can get reporting and punditry online – the web is filled with it.  Journalism is one thing that bloggers and aggregation sites and social networks can’t do well.

If traditional media wants to survive – and thrive – they should refocus on political journalism that provides value and leave the vapidity of the horse race to the web.

Links:

WBUR report on Brown and Warren poll

Newspapers Should Replace Reporting with Journalism

Reporting is Now a Commodity, but Journalism Isn’t

One Response to “The Sorry State of Political Journalism”

  1. You hit the nail on the head. People aren’t going to ante up for shootings, stabbings and “he said, she said” issueless political stories when they can get their news for free.

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