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Needed: An independent news media leader

DISCUSSIONS | May 26, 2006

Nancy Webb

1984 Nieman fellow, now a writer and free-lance journalist  

It will take a courageous and independent media leader to break the pattern and refuse to air soundbites or print campaign statements or take pictures at staged photo "opportunities".  How a candidate campaigns is not a valid indicator of how he or she would govern, yet the campaign is what gets most media attention. Media, generally, have been too passive and accommodating, allowing candidates at all levels to announce policy intentions yet refuse to provide substantial detail, or support how such policies could realistically be legislated or implemented.

Mark Felt's advice in the movie to Woodward and Bernstein to "follow the money" could be used in two ways to improve election reporting. The need to thoroughly research a candidate's funding sources and political financial history is obvious; the need for media to research the impact of cost on their own souls may be less so. I have suggested to students and freelancers for years that simply putting a complete article into an editor's hands gives them a better-than-average chance of publication. It is no different for professional campaign strategists, who understand that in order to keep costs down, media will frequently accept what is offered rather than generate independent material. Breaking the pattern will require not only courage and independence, but spending on legwork, investigation, and creativity that will not be inspired in a reporter riding the campaign bus.

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