March 08, 2004

Help Wanted: Frontrunner Flogger

Political reporters need a new job description, says Jay Rosen in this piece in the Columbia Journalism Review, one that goes beyond the "conventional, common-sense description of the job."

Rosen quotes ex-Washington Postie Paul Taylor on how political reporting has evolved into a "'master narrative' built around two principal story lines: 'the search for a candidate’s character flaws, and the depiction of the campaign as a horse race.'"

The new job description, says Rosen, needs to account for these non-traditional components of political reporting:

 Establishing the figure of the “frontrunner” and its rituals of scrutiny.
 Previewing the get-elected strategy of candidates and reviewing it as performance.
 Conducting polls, by formulating the questions to be asked, paying for the research, and publicizing the results as news.
 Moderating and sometimes sponsoring candidate debates, which means selecting who belongs in them.
 Creating a class of “authorized knowers” who are repeatedly asked to comment on the campaign.

Rosen's pieces is neither an endorsement nor a criticism of these roles, but rather a call for honesty, for journalists to recognize themselves, as Taylor put it, "players in a political contest in which they also serve as observers, commentators and referees."

This is the right way to think. An unvarnished self-image betters the ability of journalists to understand what they do, and without that recognition there can be no improvement.

For an example of political reporting done by a journalist who abandoned the "master narrative," read Rosen's examination on PressThink of the work reporter Marjie Lundstrom did at the Sacramento Bee, which focused on the public not on the candidates. [ Read: Identified Sources, Usual Suspects ]

 Columbia Journalism Review: Jay Rosen Players

Posted by Tim Porter at March 8, 2004 08:48 AM