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The Media, the Election, and Election Media
Emily Gertz, 29 Sep 04

If you haven't already taken residence under a rock with "Do Not Disturb Until November 3" painted on it--is there room under there for me?--you're probably just about as disgusted I am with the desultory tactics of U.S. news outlets in covering this year's election.

With a slew of subtle and complex issues on the table, a deluge of media choices, a seemingly polarized electorate, steady attempts to induce panic in said electorate by the powers that be, people out there who really do hate us, a war going on, and one of the great tasks of our time--curbing global warming--idling at a red light, the news media is failing in one of its most fundamental reasons for existance: keeping us citizens engaged and informed enough to participate competently in our democracy.

Journalist and NYU School of Journalism faculty member Jay Rosen calls it Every Four Years Journalism:

In the standard model you cover the dynamics of the race so you can explain who's likely to win and why. You take people inside the process to de-mystify it. You focus on the major issues in the campaign, and where the candidates stand. You try to follow the money.

You profile the candidates, show where they come from, examine their records. You watch the ads by comparing them to the facts. And you pay attention to the polls because everyone in the game attends to the polls. The polls tell us where we are in the race.

Sprinkle with commentary and savvy analysis from experienced pros. Bake and serve every four years. Leave all the rest to the editorial pages and talk shows.

...I said the standard model of campaign coverage works. But it works in the sense that Net people say Mosaic--the early web browser from back in 1993--still works. The Every Four Years headset is like outdated software still running because it's an expensive decision and major disruption to replace a piece of press think so big, with so many parts. There is no agreement on a new 'think' system. And there is every incentive to keep the old program going for another election cycle, even though the world has moved on.

However: hurrah! There are bright souls who get it in time for this election. Here in New York City, WNYC public radio's Brian Lehrer is airing 30 Issues in 30 Days, leaving aside the horse race to host guests who examine and discuss different sides of the stuff most media is avoiding, with opportunities for listeners to call and email in. Streaming audio of each day's discussion is available. Of particular interest to WorldChangers: energy policy, media ownership, and the Patriot Act...and the series is not even halfway over.

Rosen notes Columbia Journalism Review Campaign Desk's recent Honor Roll of the top ten journalists who "consistently rise above the superficial to do original and often insightful work," (including my personal favorites Frank Rich who is simply rocking in the New York Times Arts & Leisure section, and Philip Gourevitch of the New Yorker) as well as eight Honorable Mentionees.

Have you got a media hero or two right now? A writer, radio or tv host who's doing great work about this election? Tell us in the comments.

A very interesting facet of the CJR's list is that aside from one cable television reporter, The Daily Show's Jon Stewart, all the folks listed work for print media--no weblogs, no online news outlets like Slate or Salon. This may well rankle, but maybe there's something to learn. Right now, online media overall is dogmatically...well, dogmatic. It's got an axe to grind, and the sparks are flying. It's mad as hell, and it's not going to take it anymore!

What results is often informative, and frequently engaging, entertaining (when one agrees) and infuriating (see reverse), but it can fall short of educating and keeping a conversation going beyond quips and puns. We could use a lot more patience and conversation in America right now.

Let's see it as a gauntlet thrown down before us to know our stuff, write well, think beyond the blogosphere, and keep getting better at using our access to tools, bandwidth and eyeballs to coax folks out from under their rocks.

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The Daily Show really does scare me. Not because it's not brilliant news coverage, but because the truth can only be told in the form of comedy.

That's a sign of something, right?

Posted by: Vinay on 29 Sep 04

From Gulliver's Travels to Animal Farm...bitter, informed laughter has been the only way to get from one day to the next for centuries!

Posted by: Emily Gertz on 29 Sep 04

Since coming up to retreat in the canyons the only radio station I can pick up is KPFK, the Pacifica station in LA. Now they're certainly not unbiased, but their discussion of the issues is better than anything else on the radio.

Posted by: Jennifer Evonne on 29 Sep 04

Typing while Jon Stewart is talking to Charlie Rose. I spend a couple of hours a day trolling through the blogs and there have been days when I've read the story and the spin bloggers say the major media will take on it before hearing that self-same spin come back at me through the mouth of Lehrer or Jennings.

The CSPAN network is, of course, indispensable.

Dan Neiwert ( is writing a great series of pieces on "The Rise of Pseudo Fascism," as forewarned is forearmed and, baby, we need as much forearming as possible if these Bush gonifs get elected.

Phil Agre has written a piece called "What is Conservatism and What Is Wrong With It?" ( that sets the historical record straight.

Atrios ( is the epicenter of the leftie blogosphere and is the place to go to for the nuts and bolts of races all across the country.

Posted by: gmoke on 29 Sep 04

Correction: Dan Neiwert is actually David Neiwert.

I'll go to bed now.

Posted by: gmoke on 29 Sep 04

Yeah, it's that predictability that reveals the problem. News happens; bloggers predict spin; spin occurs more or less according to prediction.

Atrios and Daily Kos actually were foremost in my mind when thought about the partisan blogosphere, at least from the progressive/Democratic/left-leaning side that I typically align with.

Posted by: Emily Gertz on 30 Sep 04



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