Charles Seib - commenting on a speech by David Broder, who had characterized the press as guilty "of a kind of consumer fraud" because its daily reporting of events is incomplete - says tomorrow's repair of today's less-than-perfect press product would mark a major advance in journalism [op-ed, June 15].
It's a lovely thought, I guess, that things would be better in the ink-stained discipline if tomorrow's paper corrected the errors, oversights and misperceptions of today's. But I don't think that's going to happen, even were newspapers to begin hiring diogenes clones for reporters. And, anyway, who wants such a thing? Imagine reading today's corrections or undatings of yesterday's news, trying to remember what the hell it was that's being corrected or updated. (The Post, which almost no one reads in a state of total wakefulness, should know you can't get far on reader recall.)
Seib knows perfectly well, of course, that the news business isn't going to take to perfecting itself in public day by day. He thereby arrives at the modest conclusion, cloaked in a cheap shot at the electronic media news types, that a little humility all around would be a plus.
The problem put by Broder is how to report the news better and more completely. Newspeople, he says are mainly engaged not in deciding what to report, but what not to report. He has a feeling that readers are somehow shortchanged thereby. There are all these fascinating things that I know about, I can see Broder musing to himself before his typewriter, and no time or space for me to put them down.
I'm not so sure Broder's dilemma is bad for us readers. If we can agree, to begin, that there's no way to report everything that happens, and probably no value in doing so even if it were possible, we arrive at the clear necessity for any reporter to sort his information. Which is only what anybody who is organizing information for the perception and use of himself or others has to do. GS18s sort, streetcorner dudes sort, salesmen sort, artists sort, bedmate-seekers sort, parents sort, politicians sort. We all know the irritation of bumping up against somebody who wants to load us down with everything he knows.
Relative performance in one's own sorting field (this used to be called judgement) over time is the important thing, not that minute-by-minute high performance expectation that we have come to hang on ourselves in everything from sex to steroids. I think readers and viewers of media news are able to exercise judgment, too. Given the chance to see a competent reporter's work over a period of time, they can arrive at a judgment of whether, on balance, he or she does a useful, honest news-sorting job. They don't need three columns of Broder daily (which I'm sure he could write if he wanted to cud-chew all the stuff that comes to him each day) to conclude that he serves their political news and analysis interests well.
I'm personally a fan of the summary news story that gets into the guts of some significant person, organization or development. The Wall Street Journal does two or three such stories daily on its front page. Sometimes I find more for me in one of those stories than in an entire Post or Star. The story illuminates something for me - a place in the world, a corner of experience, a concern - and in so doing confers meaning in much the same way as does a crystal phrase of feeling in a verse or a good line in a play. I get enjoyment from such illuminations.
I return, nevertheless, to Broder's point about journalism practicing a kind of consumer fraud.I think he's right, but perhaps not quite in the way he had in mind. It's my observation that newspapers and other media report the news of their communities as they define it, see it and are set up to put it in news story form, but their reporting of the life of the community is often limited, distorted and inaccurate. The many people today who place little credence in the media have a legitimate beef, I think. Leaving aside those who want everything published to reflect their personal worldview, we can find a lot of citizens who simply do not see the life they live, experience and strive in reported in their newspapers or broadcast media. They see a lot of gee-whiz stuff presented as news, but they generally see little coverage of the things that sincere, hardworking, tyring-to-get-along-honestly citizens are experiencing or tyring to accomplish.
I suggest that an important part of the answer to Broder's worry is (nothing fancy) simply to hire more good reporters, send them out to sort what's going on in the communities in the media coverage area and print or air the competent pieces they produce. Better, more complete reporting in its best sense would inevitably follow.