Political reporters are often not working for you

More than in any other area of journalism (possibly with the exception of the financial press), political reporters should have a clear allegiance at all times to the citizenry. What does this mean?

This means that the ideal political reporter should have no thought in their minds other than things like this:

  • How can I give my readers the best information on their elected leaders and institutions?
  • How can I best explain what that information means?
  • How can I enhance my readers’ desire for civic participation?
  • How can I best advance the issues my readers care about? 
  • How can I help my readers make sense of what’s happening in their political system?

In other words, political reporters’ primary concerns should not be things like:

  • How can I best enhance my reputation as a political reporter?
  • How can I best enhance the reputation of my newspaper/TV station/etc?
  • How can I best communicate the message of the politicians I cover?
  • How can I best show how savvy and “on the inside” I am in the political arena?

What happens when this all goes awry? I live in the Chicago area so let me give you a local example of what I’m talking about.

The current mayor of Chicago has reigned for over 20 years. He is finally abdicating his throne and, as you can imagine, there are many contenders. One of them is former U.S. Senator from Illinois, Carol Mosely Braun. Recently, she has been telling anyone who would listen that the race’s arguable front-runner, Rahm Emanuel, was directly responsible for the Democrats’ recent mid-term losses and that he abandoned President Obama in his hour of need.

First she told the Sun-Times

Then the local NBC affiliate

I’m sure there were many others which I don’t have the time to round up right now.

Now, if you are a Chicago voter, what have you learned after reading the Sun-Times story and subsequent reports of Ms. Mosley-Braun’s pronouncements? Have you been given any information that will make you a more informed voter? Have you learned anything substantive about either Emanuel or Mosely-Braun? Have you deduced their stance on the issues that matter in this election?

In other words, all this report has done is served as a bright, shining example of horse-race journalism. The voters are not being informed of anything and are therefore further disengaged from the political process. After all, one does not interfere in a horse race or a boxing match or any other contest of that sort. The only people allowed in the ring are professionals (politicians, lobbyist and strategists, political journalists and commentators, etc).

It’s difficult to say how much his type of coverage of politics has damaged the electorate’s desire to participate or to even believe that they can make some sort of difference. So please, let’s all commit to stopping it now.

If you are a reporter, communicate this to your editors.

If you are an editor, communicate this ethos to your reporters.

And finally, and perhaps most importantly of all, if you are a news consumer who feels disappointed by this type of coverage: demand better of your media.

Comments are Disabled