Friday, November 16, 2007

Reporters versus regular folk

Matthew Yglesias makes some great observations about the different types of questions during the Dem debate. Reporters were asking about politics, trying to evoke divisions among the candidates or to catch individual candidates in inconsistencies. Audience members asked about policies, often informed by experiences in their own lives. A glaring example was when an audience member asked what qualities candidates would look for in Supreme Court nominees, and the reporter changed the question to make it just about Roe v. Wade.

Yeah, I found Blitzer pretty annoying, but the whole distinction here is one of priorities. News reporters want fireworks, which make good copy. Professionally, they don't care who wins either the debate or the nomination. Audience members want to know which candidate is closer to their priorities and which could win, which is how they make voting decisions.

Update:
More on the Blitzer style from Digby.

6 comments:

lidzville said...

I'd parse things one step further. News reporters don't want fireworks. Television news producers, magazine editors, and some newspaper reporters want fireworks. The tension isn't only between an elitist or ratings-deluded media and an audience. It's often, and importantly, between the people on the ground and the people at the other end of the phone. I imagine Blitzers' researchers spend a lot of time trying to figure out how to get something relevant into the show, past the censorship of the personalities they work for. First, kill the editors.

I've never met a real day-in, day-out reporter who preferred style to substance. Blitzer, etc, aren't reporters, I'd argue.

lidzville said...

some newspaper editors, that should have read...

Enik said...

Fair enough, but if Blitzer isn't a reporter, what is he? Or who is? What defines a reporter?

lidzville said...

Having professional standards is an interesting question: we probably don't want the government accrediting us, like they do doctors and lawyers, for example. But some kind of industry-wide formalization might not be a bad idea. In any case, I'd propose that reporters, firstly, are people who report. That is, call people and ask them about stuff, and go places and ask about stuff. Blitzer does very little of that. Hannity almost none. Most of the heads, zero. And then they tell their subordinates, who do actually chase the facts, what is news. I can tell you that's why half of us are drunks. Also why the news media is currently losing audience faster than it ever has, and has lower approval ratings than Bush.

Enik said...

To a large extent, professions like law and medicine police themselves (using the ABA and the AMA), determining who gets to count as a member. Lord knows academics do that. There's nothing wrong with journalists doing the same thing, although it would draw all sorts of venom from bloggers.

I always teach my students that reporters want to report on politics in an interesting way and make an important contribution, but they face market pressures from editors and media owners, who must be concerned about profitability. This tension is demonstrated nicely in "Good Night and Good Luck" and "Network."

But folks like Blitzer do not fit the reporter model well here. If anyone could resist the pressure of editors and owners, its him. He's safe. And I really doubt the head of CNN News was whispering in his earpiece during the debate to force him to dumb down questions on immigration and human rights. Yet he does this stuff anyway.

I'm not sure how to classify TV news reporters. Some of them - more probably at the local level - actually do research their stories and go out into the field to gather information. But the information threshold is so much lower for TV than it is for print. I really doubt Blitzer makes many phone calls or attends many hearings.

lidzville said...

Ah, but that's exactly why Blitzer exists. Not to use his position to resist the pressure; he's in his position because he doesn't. Rather got fired -- Rather! -- for an offense greatly smaller than 1000 things Blitzer does daily. Arnett, who we shouldn't forget helped stop the Vietnam war, got the same treatment. We're rapidly weeding out from the TV reporting corps the people who act like reporters. What you teach your students squares with my professional experience but I'd add a word to "market pressures." It's "labor market pressures." In my experience the dynamic isn't an editor saying "go get me something that'll sell magazines." It's an editor saying "I can run one story about Africa every six months, and there are thirty-four of you pitching them, work hard and you might be the one. Which is at root market. But what's driving us is the fear of unemployment or redundancy.