What does that leave? Way too much, as it turns out.
Coverage of and commentary about the news media has mushroomed over the past decade or so, to the point that a blogger such as myself could specialize in any number of areas. There's the whole look-for-emerging-business-models beat (nah, they all stink); the scandalmongering/nitpicking beat (fun, but not full time); the watch-Fox-all-day beat (taken); the layoffs beat (again, taken); the Clay Shirky-cum-Jay Rosen this-is-a-revolution beat (too much thinking for me); and others.
So we're going to go with a media blog that's for and about Washington. That's a catchphrase that's approaching its third birthday here at The Washington Post. When it first emerged from an internal strategic review in late 2008, I was working for the Washington City Paper. In a blog post on "for and about Washington," I blasted the phrase for lacking specifics. Time for a retraction: I think it provides a good jumping-off point to describe what we're doing with this blog, which is to cover media organizations that matter to Washingtonians with a focus on a key local industry: politics, that is.
The blogging in this space will be driven by the news and the stupid things that journalists say and do. Plus some obsessions:
*Hypocrisy: Nothing drives this blog quite as crazy as media organizations that don't answer questions about their own journalism. A clearer violation of the Golden Rule there never has been. One of my roles will be to call up journalists who don't respond to media reporters' calls and ask them why they ducked accountability. I expect this watchdogging to have no impact whatsoever on the behavior of reporters, but I hope it makes for good reading.
*Bias: After learning that I'd be doing this blog, one of my good friends said, "Just don't let them make you do the bias beat." Uh-oh, I responded -- I'd already proposed that myself. The question of whether the media is biased is a debate that just won't go away. Too often it gets litigated in generalities, as with a recent contretemps between the Daily Show's Jon Stewart and Fox News' Chris Wallace. As Wallace alleged a left-leaning mainstream media populated by large networks and newspapers, Stewart counter-alleged that the media's biases line up along the lines of sensationalism and laziness.
That clash is the mother of millions of page views all over the web, along with an enlightenment quotient of zero. We at the blog promise to go deeper, to press people to make their cases for media bias with specifics. At the same time, we'll be monitoring the issue from our own control booth, straining to spot ideological tilt in all kinds of content streams. As we speak, we are looking to build a machine that'll track real instances of media bias.
*Reporting: A lot of media criticism out there is just that. Someone consumes an item of journalism and then writes up some impressions. I'll do plenty of that here, to be sure. But the crankshaft of this blog will be phone calls, documents, electronic mails, interviews, and the like. The ideal will be to investigate, then bloviate.
*English: We'll be writing about writing here.
*Community: What most excites me about this blog is the opportunity to pool a bunch of people who care about these things. I'll be picking up my game on Twitter and Facebook, the better to get a dialogue going. Along those lines, I have a request for readers: I've spent years on the local news front at Washington City Paper and then at TBD, which means that embracing a more national beat will require some orientation. As I move up the learning curve, I'd ask that everyone be as merciless as possible — just rip me to shreds, please. True, pleading for nastiness on the Internet is a bit like asking a cowboy to please wear boots, but I find that nothing motivates me quite like heavy-handed criticism in the comments section.
Enough is enough. For more specifics on this blog, please read this blog.