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Media, ethics, and journalism. What works. What doesn't.

Jeffrey Dvorkin

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Andrea Seabrook: Signs of Life in Political Journalism

The US presidential campaign has only a month left to go. So far, the political journalism has been somewhat better than in past campaigns. The mainstream media and their commentators have been more aggressive in fact-checking whenever the politicians try to elide the truth.

What has caused this sudden burst of journalistic integrity?

It's blogosphere, stupid! Citizen journalism is emerging as perhaps the most significant element in this political season. Sure, the blogs are (mostly) partisan. But non-partisan bloggers (usually attached to the MSM) is showing more leg than in the past, where journalistic long skirts were the management-required fashion statement du jour. Mainstream media are have been feeling the heat from their online colleagues, but still are acting more restrained.

There are some excellent bloggers on both sides of the mainstream divide: In my opinion,
Andrew Sullivan and Nate Silver are two of the most incisive.

The question is whether this new found attitude is permanent. There are reasons to be optimistic.

One is that the public is increasingly disconnected from traditional political journalism. The public holds politicians, and the media that confirms them, in disdain. Young people are the most disconnected from politics, partly because of the obsession with the horse-race aspects of political journalism. News organization increasingly acknowledge this.

Two, this disconnect extends to the enablers of political discourse, the pollsters. The polling process has been deformed by money (what else is new?) through the tendency of polling companies to find ways to reinforce the political ideas of whoever has hired them. Cash-strapped newsrooms jump on polls like a starved person on roadkill.

(At NPR, I once suggested that we ignore all polling for the last ten days prior to the vote. "But what would be talk about?" said one horrified host).  

Yet most political journalism languishes in the Off Track Betting offices known as the newsrooms of the nation. That's where the political editors and reporters follow campaigns as if they were hockey or baseball playoffs, exchanging bits of insider information that adds little to public understanding and exacerbates public disdain.

One bright light who has had enough of this approach is Andrea Seabrook.

Andrea has always had a rebellious streak in her when I knew her in Washington, DC. After fourteen years of reporting and in her words, "being lied to daily", she resigned from NPR to set up her own news service (talk about guts!) called Decode DC.

She has raised her own money through a remarkable new fundraising system called Kickstarter (full disclosure - my son is now working for this group) and her reporting is now being heard through public radio station around the US and of course, online and through podcasts.

Andrea is part of a new generation of political journalists who believe in reporting, not stenography. She channels her inner Izzy Stone every day. And at a time when the political talent and the journalism that reports seems so stagnant, Andrea is a breath of fresh air.

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