Politics of the Press

Back when I was a professor, a million years ago now, I taught a few sections of Politics and Media. Media and Communications, a subsection with political science, wasn’t one of my specialities in grad school, but I sort of stumbled into it later. I was teaching at a small college, and they needed someone to cover the class. I had also started publishing academic research about the politics of blogs (that is still being cited in other academic research, thank you very much), because I knew a lot about it.

It was a pain in the ass class to teach because the existing textbooks were so massively out of date. It seemed stupid to be using textbooks that talked about Walter Cronkite and evening news patterns, when most of my students were getting their news from online sources, if at all. So, I reworked that damn class three times and still wasn’t happy with my syllabus.

It’s not just the textbooks that are out of date. The industry has changed massively in the past five years. In real life, I am constantly correcting people — even press relations people who should know better — about how things work. In the past few years, things have gotten both more professional — more fact checking — and more amateur — more writers with less experience and less job security — ¬†at the same time.

Megan McArdle had a great post and twitter thread last week about how the industry is going to have to put up paywalls, because it can’t afford to carry on with free content. I subscribed to the WaPo for the first time this month.

And then there’s the whole White House Correspondents’ Dinner drama from this weekend. My twitter stream is still ranting about Michelle Wolf’s jokes about Sarah Huckabee Sanders. I watched it. I was uncomfortable, but I hate all roasts. There’s something horrible about watching someone’s face when they are being publicly mocked. That kind of comedy is not my cup of tea.

The Correspondent Dinner is always a weird affair. The press and politicians should not mingle and be all chummy or be all hate-y either. It’s not cool. There should be a big wall between them. And there should be an emotional detachment from politics, which is different from objectivity. Objectivity is a higher standard and is probably impossible. Detachment is a lower bar and is simply reporting without sentiment. I think we can do that.

But to have a great press, I think that the WHCD is the least of the problems. We have to solve the problems that Megan talks about in her article. We have to figure out how to pay grown-ups to do the writing. Because right now, that’s not happening.