Stepping Back: Even In-Or Maybe Particularly In-Our Rapid-Fire News Environment, There Are Times When It's Important for Journalists and Audiences Alike to Take the Long View
Rieder, Rem, American Journalism Review
The world of national political coverage can be a peculiar one. It's a world where the votes of 16,892 Iowans 15 months before the election can dramatically reshape the Republican presidential field-It's a world where Michele Bachmann, who, according to the Los Angeles Times, had been hoping for more than 6,000 votes, can be declared the winner of a significant victory when she tops the field with just 4,823.
It's a world where Ron Paul, the indefatigable libertarian, can receive 4,671 votes--only 152 fewer than media darling Bachmann--and remain in the chopped liver department.
It's also a world that has been turned upside down by technology. As Jodi Enda portrays in her excellent cover story (see "Campaign Coverage in the Time of Twitter," page 14), the pace of reporting on campaign happenings has been speeded up exponentially. The main reason for that, the scribes agree, is Twitter. Journalists and campaigns alike are making ample use of the microblogging service, which makes it much easier to keep on top of things, minute by minute. Match the Twitterverse with the blogosphere and the hungry maw that is cable news, not to mention a culture that cares profoundly about "winning the cycle," and you've got a news world that never sleeps.
Some of this is good, of course: You can instantly find out what's going on, often from a wide variety of sources. The risk is that in the race to stay on top of it all, there's little time for reflection, for context, for serious, in-depth reporting. "We're much more likely this cycle to have covered in detail the medication Michele Bachmann takes for her headaches than the policy ideas that are coming out of her mouth," USA Today Washington Bureau Chief Susan Page told Enda. "One is easy to understand, interesting, likely to get a lot of hits. Policy issues are harder, difficult to make sexy."
Of course, journalists have long been criticized for paying too much attention to the horse race and not enough to the serious stuff. And there's nothing wrong with reporting on the kerfuffles that become the flavor of the day. If Bachmann has serious migraine issues, it's important for people to know that. Bursts of coverage of Mitt Romney saying "corporations are people" or Barack Obama talking during the last campaign about "bitter" people who "cling to guns or religion" tell us something about the candidates.
The problem is one of proportion. There's no doubt that the Anthony Weiner scandal was a big story. …