The end times of political reporting? A response.

June 4, 2013

Our piece on whether or not the end of political reporting is near drew lots and lots of, well, let's call it feedback.  One spirited rebuttal came from Dan Hazelwood, a Republican direct mail consultant. Dan agreed to let us publish his thoughts, which put the blame squarely on reporters and with which we, largely, disagree. His thoughts appear below unedited.

Reporting is under assault by a political class.”

Au contraire, my friend. Reporting has been shredded by members of the industry called journalism. We lived in a moment for a few years where we pretended this bunk about the fourth estate. The reality is, perhaps sadly, that for nearly the entire history of the Republic press/media have been partisan. It was true in 1792 and in 1813, 1913 and still in 2013. Yes there are some journalists who tilt at the windmill and try to be independent. I would give you credit for clearly trying to stay away from one partisan side or another.


Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein.

But there is no such thing as “robust independent” journalists. There may be journalists that don’t react on orders and will chase off on what they find interesting. But that is far and away the exception. They are in the business—the failing business—of trying to get eyeballs on their paper, newscast or computer screen.

What do journalists aspire to now? They want to be on the talking head shows. So they slash and call it news, because that is what gets ratings.

Even flip open your paper. There are editorials scattered throughout the paper as columns and news analysis, long before you get to the editorial page.

Then [there is] the absolute incompetence of political reporting at most levels around the country, where writing stories about polls, or receiving planted opposition research from the other side and passing it off as their own “research” is considered respectable.

Stories are driven by what blogs are saying, because the reporter wants a fig leaf argument to write their agenda. I am not saying the agenda is universally liberal, but it is close to universally partisan.

Roll out the cable shows that are shout and spin fests. That is what is leading “political journalism”. The line between commentary, partisan and journalist isn’t blurry. It is GONE in most cases and to the public eye.

Why should ANYONE grant sole discretionary power to journalists -- a self-selecting group that delivers partisan viewpoints. The voters don’t trust them now either, which explains why readership is collapsing.

Journalists need to set their own house in order. They can’t go on Chris Matthews or Bill Maher and endorse those shows' credibility and keep their own.

Then the story often written by journalists in politics are always process and who is up and down. That is OK if that is your mission. But [the] reporting on a host of political issues is way too often through the political lens. That is not what the public wants. There are clear differences and debatable policy differences on countless issues. But the lead cover story is always how this helps or hurts some partisan figure or agenda.

It wasn’t that long ago where a lot of towns had a Republican paper and Democrat[ic] paper. And the local TV affiliates were allied to lesser degrees. Now one paper is gone and the other is struggling, and stories are process-based on what the news people have been told to pay attention to or harassed by staff to report on. But if a reporter thinks a race isn’t going to be exciting they barely go through the exercise of the token article that repeats bios and has two lines on issues. Maybe that is a product of the decimation of the staff. But that leads the news consumers to look elsewhere for the content, so the news business has further declines in revenue.

If journalism wants to cover politics it should say every week we will have one story at least about every political figure in our market at the federal level. And it will include their opponent and it will not be slogan- but issue-based. And every week the story cannot be the same issue (abortion and tea party and Obamacare angle).

So reporting isn’t under assault by the political class. As I have said, political reporters are part of the political class. Gleefully so. They have all the foibles and blind spots of human beings.  Now the political operative wing of the political class has a giant load of problems of its own. But journalists should only blame themselves, because they’ve done it to themselves.

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Juliet Eilperin · June 4, 2013