Tuesday, September 9, 2008

"Why the Press Can't Report the Campaign"

Ezra Klein is a very smart person:

I think one aspect of the modern press that doesn't get enough attention -- either among folks in the media or folks critiquing it -- is the transition from the fundamental scarcity being information to information being in abundance and the fundamental scarcity being mediation. For instance, the attitude on display in this Marc Ambinder post is fully understandable if you take a newspaperman's attitude towards the whole thing. If everyone got a newspaper once a day, and there were eight political stories, and all of them were different each day, and one of them had pointed out that Palin actually did support the Bridge to Nowhere, then the press would indeed have done its job. The job was to report the story, and they reported it.

But cable news and blogs and radio sort of changed all that and now there's too much information, and so consumers largely rely on the press to arrange that information into some sort of coherent story that will allow them to understand the election. And the press assumed that role -- they didn't create some new institution, or demand that the cable channels be credentialed differently and understood as "political entertainment."


Similarly, if the press reports something and never mentions it again, the public knows to forget it. It's not important. If they mention it constantly -- "I voted for the $87 billion before I voted against it" -- they know it is important. The job of the media, in other words, is now to also emphasize the right parts of the story. [emphasis in original]

This requires deciding what matters.

That last sentence is both true and a substantial problem. It's also partially why I read lefty political blogs - I have found something that filters information in a similar way I do, and considers similar things important, thus saving me from either dedicating all of my free time to sifting through the news or remaining even more ignorant.

To be clear, the reason it's a problem is that the is often based not on, say, information about either policy or instances of lying on the part of candidates, but around the idea of politics-as-game, or even around what the friggin' reporters simply find interesting. In other words, the filters used are often terrible and not conducive to deliberative democracy.

Go read the rest. It's not long.


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