Journalism and Democracy: An Evaluation of the Political Public Sphere

By Brian McNair | Go to book overview

4


THE INTERPRETATIVE MOMENT

1 and also most criticised aspects of contemporary political journalism 2 is the remarkable expansion in recent years of the commentary form, what I will call the interpretative moment in the news cycle - spaces in the public sphere where evaluation of, and opinion about either the substance, the style, the policy content or the process of political affairs replaces the straight reportage of new information. Critics of this trend do not say that commentary is without value in political journalism - only that it has expanded as a proportion of total output beyond what is required or good for rational political decision-making, and at the expense of straightforwardly informative reportage. In what is, at one level, an extension of the process versus policy debate, one important aspect of the crisis of public communication is said to be the ascendancy of subjective journalistic interpretation over objective fact-reporting. The normative functions of political news are being undermined by a proliferating commentary industry; a plethora of pundits who, drawing their cultural power from the privileged status of the journalist as licensed truth-teller, increasingly flood the public sphere with speculation and conjecture. This chapter assesses the validity of those criticisms.

The rise of political commentary

In its earliest forms, journalism - and ‘correspondents’ - were merely the conduits of information from one part of the world to another, made necessary (and thus valuable) by the growth of trade and mercantile capital. News acquired commodity-status because of its importance in the pursuit of business (economic) and administrative (political) activities, and has thus always been primarily concerned with the gathering, processing and distribution of economic and political information to those with a use for it. Early in the history of journalism, however, correspondents added to their core function of reportage and information-relay the intellectual labour of interpretation - making sense for their audience of an ever more

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Journalism and Democracy: An Evaluation of the Political Public Sphere
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents v
  • List of Tables and Figures vii
  • Preface and Acknowledgements ix
  • 1 - Journalism and Democracy 1
  • 2 - The Political Public Sphere 14
  • 3 - Policy, Process, Performance and Sleaze 42
  • 4 - The Interpretative Moment 61
  • 5 - The Interrogative Moment 84
  • 6 - The Sound of the Crowd 105
  • 7 - Spin, Whores, Spin 122
  • 8 - The Media and Politics, 1992-97 140
  • 9 - Political Journalism and the Crisis of Mass Representation 171
  • Notes 180
  • Bibliography 195
  • Index 199
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