Saturday, March 25, 2006

'Can analysis be worthwhile?' 'Is the theater really dead?'

Sorry to jump into this journalism debate way late, but my main reaction to Harry and James' battle in the middle of the week is that reasoned, informed, well-written analysis is exactly why The New York Times and, when I'm in town, The Washington Post are a religion for me. Both papers do a phenomenal job of not only reporting the news, but putting it in context. And that's why I can't stand cable news channels -- they frequently fall egregiously on either side of the tightrope print journalists (and to a certain extent radio reporters like those on National Public Radio) are supposed to walk in writing educated news stories. Everyday, one can see the nightmare that is Harry's proposed no-analysis news.

Cable news is either all hard news with no context (Jon Stewart frequently parodies cable news as a bunch of guys next door with videocameras) or all "analysis," which is often no more than either speculation or pure opinion. Print and, to a certain extent, radio are perfect media with which to report the news and provide consumers context -- you can both paint a picture of the story and tell readers why it's important. Television just doesn't lend itself to doing so -- the power of images draws reporters and producers toward "it bleeds it leads" type stories (shootings, bomb scares) or political ping-pong, like one can see on cable news channels at every hour of the day. In the end, cable news outlets have dumbed down the general public's understanding of current events and cheapened our national political dialogue.

Reasoned analysis is essential to any quality newspaper, and reporters are well positioned to give readers that analysis. As James can attest, reporters on beats spend hours each week talking to the people who are making news and follow every minor development in their beat area -- more than almost anyone else, they become experts on their beat topics. I'd say an expert who is paid to keep genuine opinions out of their pieces (and any accidental subjectivity is checked by two or three editors at any major newspaper) is the perfect person to deliver analysis.

Reporters are not simply another person with a point of view on daily happenings (as Harry seems to say in his 7th-grade exploration of point of view -- literally, I'm doing that exercise in my class next week). Reporters are genuine observers who, in almost every case (there are mistakes made in every profession), are not tied to any outcomes in the stories they write. Every single point of view in Harry's post comes from an interested party, which makes it completely unrelated to journalism (except at the base level of writing about something that happened -- journalism is about far more than that).

The bottom line is that James is 100 percent correct -- there is no question that good reporting needs analysis.


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