Political Exchange



Political Reporting


Read all the remarks from:
Edwin Diamond
  • Round One
  • Round Two
  • Round Three
  • Round Four Questions and Answers
  • Round Five

    Sarah McClendon

  • Round One
  • Round Two
  • Round Three
  • Round Four Questions and Answers
  • Round Five

    Paul Starobin

  • Round One
  • Round Two
  • Round Three
  • Round Four Questions and Answers
  • Round Five


  • Remarks From Paul Starobin

    In the fourth round of the Political Exchange, the participants responded to questions selected by PoliticsNow Classroom's academic editor Melvin Dubnick.

    By Paul Starobin
    May 1, 1997

    1. The Internet. At this point, the Internet is not having a significant impact on traditional political reporting. The Net is a useful tool that gives reporters access to more information (I bookmark lots of publications that I would not otherwise read, for example) but it has not really changed the craft. Maybe it will-maybe it truly will make the traditional "Establishment" press irrelevant. But I doubt it. The ability for virtually anyone to post raw "stuff" on the Net may instead put a higher premium on the information that is sifted and sorted-tested for accuracy-by the Establishment folks. And as we've seen, the Establishment pubs (Wall Street Journal et al.) have rapidly moved to deliver their product via the Net.

    2. The Media as Mirror. To say that the media is a reflection of the culture is not to excuse the low-grade journalism but simply to get everyone to acknowledge the tremendous power of the marketplace, a proxy for cultural appetites. Let's not be naive: Journalism is a commercial medium and there's a big demand for garbage. Yes, the media can manipulate / stoke/ shape these demands, and I'm all for higher standards, but you should be addressing this question to the folks who own TV and radio stations, magazines and newspapers, etc...They set the tone and the standards. Check in with Rupert Murdoch.

    3. Go to the producers? TV producers are important, but in the media food chain they still tend to take their cues from the prestige print publications, especially The New York Times since so many of these folks live in Manhattan. Sure they're motivated by ratings-what else do you think is driving hidden camera journalism? But this is a big country with lots of folks still interested in high-quality news, so I don't expect the whole nation to go tabloid.

    4. A Control Newspaper? Hmm. Who's going to publish it, who's going to rule on "truthfulness," who's going to read it? My Big Brother radar is beeping. Anyway, don't we already have a (thriving) media-criticism industry? Sounds Sisypheanish.

    5. Uncivil Reporters? Yeah, lots of journalists act like self-important jerks. 'Course they've got plenty of company in Washington. There's no great harm in opening up a discussion of press deportment, but the pressies will hoot and howl and it probably won't accomplish anything. Better to focus on concrete standards and practices-taking money for speeches, for example.

    6. What is Civic Journalism? Good question. As far as I can tell, the so-called civic-journalism movement began as a reaction against traditional political journalism of the "horserace" variety-the endless reports on campaign strategy, tactics and the like that tend to gloss over the issues. I'm no great fan of the horserace genre myself-it's tired, it's inside baseballish, it tends to set up a kind of closed loop between the media professionals and the political professionals. So the civic-journalism folks, or at least many of them, say that the media needs to do a better job of reporting on the issues and potential solutions to society's problems. That's o.k.-we ought to be doing that anyway. I start to get nervous, though, when the talk turns to the positive role that the press can play as a regenerator of "civil society," to use the buzzword of the moment. Yikes! The press as an institution is not cut out to play a role as a healer of society. Nor is it the job of the press to set the policy agenda. The press should be an honest, clear-eyed, skeptical-but-not-cynical, independent watchdog of power. And it should help people make sense of the times. The problem, at least in politics, is that other institutions that really should be playing a more active, agenda-setting role-namely, the political parties-seem to be floundering. I think the civic journalism movement is sparking a useful discussion of hidebound press practices, but like any big institution, the media will be slow to change. The natural tendency of all institutions is to do tomorrow what they did yesterday.