31 August 2011

Political Reporting 2011

As we slide into the fall general election’s open campaign period, some of you might find it interesting to ponder Jay Rosen’s recent post about the current state of political reporting in the United States and Australia.

This is more a thought post than anything else.  Your humble e-scribbler started chewing over some observations about politics and political reporting a while ago.  The ideas are still swirling around and sometimes it is useful to just post them as part of a thought-exercise in progress.

Rosen is a journalism prof at New York University.  He’s been blogging since 2003 about journalism, so yes, folks that makes him a very early adopter of the form.

Political reporting is off track, Rosen argues.

So this is my theme tonight: how did we get to the point where it seems entirely natural for the Australian Broadcasting Corporation to describe political journalists appearing on its air as “the insiders?”  Don’t you think that’s a little strange? I do. Promoting journalists as insiders in front of the outsiders, the viewers, the electorate…. this is a clue to what’s broken about political coverage in the U.S. and Australia. Here’s how I would summarize it: Things are out of alignment. Journalists are identifying with the wrong people. Therefore the kind of work they are doing is not as useful as we need it to be.

Rather than suffer through a short-hand version of Rosen’s post, take a second a go read it for yourself.  It isn’t very long and Rosen does makes his points rather neatly.  If you’ve got the time, wander through some of the links he offers up at the end.

There are a bunch of ideas running through Rosen’s post and the links.

There are the three ideas Rosen holds as part of the problem he sees in current political reporting:

1. Politics as an inside game.

2. The cult of savviness.

3. The production of innocence.

Politics is an inside game and some reporters present themselves as insiders – as savvy – and as people who can get inside the deepest recesses of political campaigns and bring audiences an informed, accurate and detailed discussion about the strategy and tactics.

Interesting concept.

Except that, with very few exceptions nationally and none locally, the reporters can never get inside, have never been inside. 

They only know what people who genuinely are inside will tell them. 

And given that none of the reporters have ever been inside a political campaign as a campaign participant, they can’t authoritatively discuss what is going on authoritatively based on experience..

And yet some reporters do it.

At the same time, the same reporters will insist they are merely observers who have no stake, or role in the politics and political process at all. 

That’s the innocence Rosen talks about.

Now Rosen has his own conclusions about how journalism ought to be done.  That’s all fine and good.

What savvy news consumers reading this might want to think about is that how the news gets reported to them can affect their perceptions about the political process generally and about the particular campaign.

While reporters are discussing strategies, tactics, how many candidates have been nominated or about a particular parties debt problems, there might well be other things they aren’t reporting.  Those other things could be as important or even more important to public perceptions of the campaign.

Rosen also offers a little graphic representation people can use to plot reporting.


And the way Rosen describes the four sectors:

Bottom left: Appearances rendered as fact. Example: the media stunt.

Top left: Phony arguments. Manufactured controversies. Sideshows.

Bottom right: Today’s new realities: get the facts. The actual news of politics.

Top right. Real arguments: Debates, legitimate controversies, important speeches.

Here’s one example from the local political scene to get you started.

Manufactured controversies:  Danny Williams and Quebec.  That one pretty much screams contrivance, right down to the complete misrepresentation of what the Quebec energy regulatory decided on Nalcor’s wheeling application and what the wheeling application was all about.

What would you put in the other sectors?

- srbp -