Seth Godin seems frustrated about, I suppose, the lack of diversity in journalism topics. I sort of agree with that, although my criticism would be more about the negligence shown towards important topics rather than a critique of rehashing the same talking points. The latter causes the former, no doubt, but my complaint wouldn’t exist if more “important” topics were beat to death with the same fervor as the political horse race, Casey Anthony, etc. Godin ends by saying this:
How many times have I read the story about Louis CK in the last week? Did I need a newspaper to write precisely the same story days after I read it for the first time? How much do we care about the race for ‘first’ when first is now measured in seconds or perhaps minutes?
We don’t need paid professionals to do retweeting for us. They’re slicing up the attention pie thinner and thinner, giving us retreaded rehashes of warmed over news, all hoping for a bit of attention because the issue is trending. We can leave that to the unpaid, I think.
The hard part of professional journalism going forward is writing about what hasn’t been written about, directing attention where it hasn’t been, and saying something new.
Well… the hard part of journalism isn’t finding “new” topics that demand attention, it’s attaining a large enough platform from which you can discuss those topics and not succumbing to a combination of peer pressure, careerism and lethargy.
There are tons of topics that call for a thorough airing out. Like Republicans’ increasing extremism over the past thirty years. Or Democrats’ structural change to keep up with Republicans in fundraising. Or the effects of the War on (Some People Who Use Some) Drugs. Or the fact that we have a prison building company so large that it’s listed on the New York Stock Exchange. Or an honest look at the status of U.S. public education. Or the increase in salary of the upper echelon of people who cover the news for a living (wish I had a link for that one, but start by searching for the value of Chris Matthews’, Tim Russert’s and Tom Freidman’s houses). Or daily columns on lobbying in Washington and how that affects legislation. Or the fact that the United States loved some Jonas Savimbi. Or that the United States created slave labor conditions on Saipan for so many years (also see Thomas Frank’s book for a more exhaustive and disturbing chronicle of that episode). And on and on and on.
The issue isn’t that there aren’t new and relevant news stories (some of those above may not be new, but I think they are relevant). The issue isn’t that there aren’t people who have interest in writing about these subjects, because there are people who do. The issue is whether our major news organizations choose to cover them and in which way they do so.
Also, the problem with Godin’s complaint, with respect solely to the current political situation, is how do you say something different when the same thing keeps happening over and over again? Democrats have again presented Republicans with a plan that Republicans previously supported and Republicans now will not support such a plan. Today on MSNBC, a Republican from the House claimed that Republican opposition stems from the desire for a year-long plan. Which would almost make sense, except for the fact that the current two-month plan is being negotiated specifically because Republicans requested a two-month plan instead of a year-long plan. But now they want a year-long plan. So it went with health care. So it went with cap and trade.
For political coverage, why should you say something different when the story is the exact same?
UPDATE: Right on cue.