Connor Friedersdorf, writing for the Atlantic, suggests a new form of journalism – or rather, an optional new mission statement for journalism – that shuns the typical infatuation with inside baseball and “crisis of the hour” fascination, that avoids becoming mired in the intricacies or theatrics surrounding an issue, and that would likely yield far better results from our political leaders than we are getting now.
One way of looking at things is that governing is complicated, and journalists need to roll with it, doing the best that they can to explain the inside baseball. When Bob Woodward says, “I spent two months reporting on how they came to the sequester,” he’s presumably operating on that theory. But covering politics in that way is a choice. What if the political press is doing a disservice to Americans by making it? What if we’re needlessly tailoring our content to the prejudices and preferences of insiders without even fully realizing that there are other options available? What if this particular option more often than not empowers whoever is most adept at spin?
I see no way around explaining something as complicated and jargon-laden as the sequester, even though many educated Americans will either misunderstand it or tune it out completely. But daily accounts of the closed-door negotiations? Regular analysis of their tenor? Pieces on the inner thoughts and feelings of the people involved? Capturing all that accurately, given that every source involved has an incentive to lie or spin, seems impossible to achieve with any consistency. Perhaps it can be achieved, occasionally, by reporters who spend many months reconstructing events with as many sources as possible. But the press as it now operates attempts to publish this sort of journalism on an up-to-the-minute, look-what-just-happened basis.
Isn’t there a better way?
Well fear not – and go ahead and crawl back out from under the couch now – because it turns out there is.