By: Chris Springsteen
Three well-respected journalists and professors navigated the delicate balance between traditional political journalism and the advent of new media.
Matt Canham (journalist from SL Tribune), Susan Tolchin (professor at George Mason University) and John Daley (reporter at KSL-TV) led an interesting discussion titled “Who Watches Government?” and how new media have changed our culture in terms of political media coverage.
The three experts unanimously agreed that journalism is definitely different than it was just 10 years ago. They all also recognized that this isn’t necessarily bad or good, just different.
Canham was resolute in remarking that, “journalism is in complete flux right now.” The traditional roles have changed and the boundaries blurred.
Daley commented, “It’s the best of times and the worst of times . . . It’s a challenging time to be a journalist because news rooms are cut in half. And because of this we are all doing more work.” But Daley acknowledged, “It’s great how you can get any info you want instantly whenever you want.”
Tolchin added that everybody is now a photojournalist, making the people the best watchdog over the government.
Moderator Bryan Schott followed up Tolchin’s observation with an interesting question, “Then, who is responsible for keeping the media honest and correct?”
Canham responded with, “It is your (referring to us the readers) job to tell a journalist if something is wrong in their article.” He remarked that if the error is not pointed out then the story is archived and consequently becomes the bible truth. The issue for journalists is less time and resources coupled with faster work. The formula makes for a reduction in fact checking and less time to reflect back on impartiality before the stories are released.
Reasonably, this dialogue led to a compelling question, “What is the most important characteristic of writing about politics?”
Moderator Schott asked if “horse race politics” was a legitimate way to cover political races or is it a disservice to not focus entirely on matters of policy.
The TV reporter, Daley, believed it to be a disservice adding that “the people you elect have enormous power to shape lives” and that can be overshadowed by the horse race reporting. Conversely, policy stories are boring and a reporter can’t be repetitive. He felt that for the non-specialized general public outlets the horse race, unfortunately, does dominate.
The political journalist Canham was quick to dismiss that they mostly write about “horse race politics” and stated that, “horse race politics are overblown.” Instead, he offered his perspective that he covers the political races over such a long span of time and that he can only write about their political views for a couple of columns before it becomes repetitive adding that the rest of the year they simply have to write about the race. Canham argued that there used to be less choice for the public but now media outlets have to compete to survive. They are no longer just competing against the other local papers but now against the World Wide Web.
Professor Tolchin had a candid outlook in that there is a direct correlation between money and politics. She added, “A person’s character is his fate.” She said she feels it is important the people are aware who the person is who will be leading the country. As was the case with John Edwards, for example, the exposure of his crime was an important public issue that needed to be revealed.
Kyle Lamb, a student who attended the event from another university, was asked what he thought of this and he stated, “I didn’t care about how the race was going but cared more about the political views of the candidates.” He added, “ I can’t control who is voting for who.”
In the most compelling debate of the forum, the experts discussed the impact of the Internet’s search engines on media coverage. It was agreed that that the day of the newspaper was on the decline citing that people are more and more relying on their search engines to deliver the news in the way they want to receive it. Unfortunately, many times the biggest viral news of the day can be insignificant. Because culture is changing so quickly, Daly implied that it’s a free-for-all where the Internet spreads it and the story just can’t be contained.
The three speakers concluded the forum and Daley capped the talk off the best by saying, ”There is more money in politics than ever before and less watchdogs.” The abundance of money and the fact that there are fewer traditional reporters to investigate will continue to lead to unethical behavior and mischief on the part of our political parties. The public, as part of the new media watchdogs, will need to do their part to keep the balance.
Toby Sutherland, an attendee at the event, stated, “I think Daley nailed it by that last statement, that there are problems and there needs to be more watchdogs.”
By: Chris Springsteen