A Student Perspective..

NOTE:  Andy Smith, a junior journalism major, wrote this essay for my Politics, Journalism and the Web class.  I’m posting it here with his permission —  Steve

Evolution of Political Journalism

Political journalism, like all other types of journalism, is evolving with the new age of technology. Newspapers are being ushered into extinction by the emergence of the internet. It should be noted that newspapers in their hardcopy are becoming obsolete and these same news engines will be presented almost exclusively online in the future. This is due to the 24-hour news cycle and the decline in advertising revenues. Newspaper reporters are now being asked to succumb to this new era and take part in reporting tools like blogs, podcasts, and even video commentary. Political journalism has simply followed the lead.
John Harris, in his article, Shifting Influence: From Institution to Individual, wrote, “Print journalism has shifted from an institutional to an entrepreneurial age. It used to be that the most important thing about a reporter was what paper he or she worked for. These days, the most influential reporters are ones who have used the power of the Web to build their individual brands. The particular platform they work — what paper or Web site — is secondary.” That has never been more evident in this era of journalism. For example, The Washington Post and washingtonpost.com are two completely separate entities. They even have separate office buildings with different staff writers. Chris Cilizza, a writer for washingtonpost.com, blogs solely for the website. Other websites like The Politico, The Daily Kos, and ABC’s The Note, are political journalism powerhouses that are only published online.
Another change in political journalism is the addition of analysis and a subtraction of simply presenting the news. In his article [for] PressThink: Convention Coverage is a Failed Regime and Bloggers Have Their Credentials, Jay Rosen wrote, “A large part of the journalist’s script is, of course, the horse race narrative. It states that in reporting on a media event, which is all about manipulated “perception,” you seize on any mistakes you find because mistakes tell you about the party’s ability to control the message, control public perception. Likewise with any unexpected conflict that disrupts, even a little, the smooth impression of a “unified” party.” Rosen is discussing the game politicians play with the media. The politicians hold events like conventions, in which the events are scripted down to the minute. Instead of fighting to get the real story, politicians are suckered in to reporting what is presented to them at the convention, which is what the politicians want them to see. It plays into the overall laziness of reporters nowadays, regardless of the method in which they present the news. Rosen addressed this when he wrote, “The journalist’s explanation for how it all happened is half-truthful: the parties turned the conventions into promotional reels, and stuck relentlessly to the script. This tells 50 percent of the story. It ignores the fact that journalists themselves developed a script to which they also stuck, and they’re still reading from it: “it’s all a big show…”
Some have feared that the introduction of a “new” media would make for a dumbing down of the American public. They have also feared that the introduction of blogs will turn the media into a game of speed instead of accuracy. The cardinal rule of journalism is to be accurate, regardless of how long it takes you to get the story. Blogs have forced the media to focus on getting the story quickly rather than accurate. For example, during the presidential campaign, The Drudge Report, a political blog, posted a picture of Barack Obama, the Democratic nominee for president, wearing traditional Middle Eastern clothing. Almost automatically, the perception of the picture was that Obama was Muslim. However, after careful and precise reporting, that blog posting was pronounced false and careless reporting. In the long run, the credibility of that blog will decrease because of faulty reporting.
Ultimately, political journalism has evolved with journalism as a whole. The introduction of a 24-hour news cycle has forced the media to become more about speed than accuracy. In turn, that has led to some prominent media voices, like Dan Rather, to produce false news reports and ultimately lose their job. The media will eventually have to find the balance between speed and accuracy to create a truly special means of reporting news to the American people.


About journalismprof

Steve joined the journalism faculty at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst in August 2007 and has been working to incorporate multimedia across the curriculum. Since arriving at UMass, Steve has developed three courses modeled after his multimedia journalism course. The courses allow students to work in teams in a newsroom-like environment where they work on packages -- using video, audio and photos to tell stories. He is also working with students on developing amherstwire.com, a news Web site staffed completely by students. Steve has more than 25 years of experience as an editor and reporter for print and online publications, including 10 as an editor at washingtonpost.com. He also edits part-time for espn.com with the NFL and college football network.
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