The Columbia Journalism Review’s “CJR Daily” reports today that “Reporters Tire of Bad Political Reporting,” and that what’s needed is “big-picture changes that could improve news coverage in the upcoming campaign season.”
The question posed to several journalists: “Some veteran American journalists see the 2006 elections as offering the press a momentous opportunity to revolt against the status quo of spoon-fed sound bites and he said/she said coverage… What would such a revolt look like?”
The answers, generally vapid, focus on the need for “better investigative units,” avoiding the “journalistic pile on,” and the need to talk with “a diverse group of people: the shop clerk, the cab driver, the admitting nurse at the doctor’s office.” Well, OK.
One recommendation was especially disturbing: “Instead of spending time getting reaction quotes, test the veracity and authenticity of the original statement,” wrote Valerie Hyman, a 1987 fellow. “Journalists are under no legal obligation to provide equal space and/or time to opposing candidates.”
In the charge-countercharge campaign environment — which will never change, and never should change — “spending time getting reaction quotes” is essential. To say journalists are under “no legal obligation” to provide equal space or time to opposing candidates, while true, is simply classroom idealism.
Charges and countercharges are the coin of the realm in the daily reporting of campaigns — as is the horse race reporting of various polls. It’s news — always was, always will be.
For those who dislike what most of us consider to be the de riguer reporting of charges, countercharges, allegations, reacts, polls, tv spots, process pieces and the like, perhaps the answer is simply a broader ratio of so-called “news analysis” pieces to place things in a broader, more objective context, to the exteny that’s possible.
No one cranks out higher quality, more frequent big picture analysis pieces that Ron Brownstein of the Los Angeles Times. Brownstein’s the best — but there are plenty of other must-read sharpies out there capable of cranking out this genre; Dan Balz, for example, or Rick Berke, when he was on tour.
What’s really needed: more latitude from editors enabling their smartest, best reporters to show their “news analysis” stuff, in addition to the daily hit and run pieces. Both are essential.