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Grilling The Press In the fourth round of the Political Exchange, the participants responded to questions selected by PoliticsNow Classroom's academic editor Melvin Dubnick.
By Melvin Dubnick
1. Over the past three days, each of you has made some passing reference to the new technology (e.g. Internet) and how it is influencing political reporting. But the issue doesn't seem as central to your discussions as us outsiders might expect. Is it simply a matter of the political press merely "adapting" to the new technology - or are you overlooking a real threat to the foundations of your profession?
2. Two constants in this and other discussions of political reporting scream for attention: the idea that news reporting is a "reflection of the culture it covers" (Paul's latest round) and the idea that the media in our capitalist society is market driven and therefore only offers what the public demands. To some of us these cliches seem like escapes from (1) the reality that that the press helps shape the culture it reports on and (2) professional responsibility to uphold standards of journalistic quality. Does the profession share with others (including higher education) a "go with the flow" mentality? And doesn't that lower the quality of reporting?
3. If it is true (as advertised) that Americans get most of their news from ABC News (or CBS or NBC or wherever), then perhaps it isn't reporters we should be focusing on, but rather the producers of nightly news programs. Neil Postman and Steve Powers, among others, discuss the ratings logic that drives the order and content of those programs. The bottom line is an intentional distortion of what is broadcast so as to optimize audience retention and maximize advertising rates. The decision of what gets on the air is no longer in the hands of the reporters. Some see this logic emerging in newspapers as well - as evidenced by increasing attention to front page design (e.g., USA Today, the return of "loud" tabloid headlines). What is your reaction to those developments and their impact on political journalism?
4. Here is an old idea that may have some life in it: Albert Camus once proposed publishing a "control newspaper" that would hit the stands an hour or so after the regular papers. This paper, however, would involve a scoring of the "truthfulness" of the articles in the other dailies - and provide information on the interests and potential biases of the reporters, editors, newspaper owners, story sources, etc. An intriguing - if perhaps unrealistic and tongue-in-cheek - proposal. But maybe not. Any reactions?
5. On a personal level, what often irks me is the lack of civility among members of the Washington press corps, especially the folks covering the White House. I am not talking about the aggressive and "feisty" approach of Sarah McClendon, but the downright cynical and dismissive demeanor of some reporters - particularly those that Fallows attacks and Paul labels as "buckrakers." Should there be some discussion of the uncivil behavior of political reporters and how that impacts not only the quality of their reporting, but also their credibility (and that of their colleagues)?
6. What is this "civic journalism" movement? Is it a serious development that we should be paying attention to? Of is it a passing fad? What are its implications for your profession?