Monday, September 10, 2007

VA-GOP And The Press: Update

After writing this post I asked a friend who covers local politics whether he had attended the meeting. His e-mail back to me was highly revealing.

No [he didn't go to the county commission meeting] but I knew that was going to happen because one of those dudes, Wayne Kubicki, told me they were going to do that. I didn’t think anything of it because the local GOP (which is constituted by 5 or 6 dudes) does this every meeting but on a different topic. I guess they chose immigration this month. That’s why this article is crap, because the GOPers do this at every meeting. I think what happened was that Kristin’s editors sent her to the meeting and told her to come back with a story and since nothing was happening at the meeting (which is why I didn’t go b/c I checked the agenda ahead of time and saw that nothing was going on) she had to invent a story out of nothing.
Now I'm quoting my friend with permission and anoymously because he didn't want to publicly insult her, especially because she was put in a difficult position. I've been in that position myself where you have a half-page of notes because nothing happened but, damn it, you were there and the newshole was booked for you and you are expected to produce.

But my friend's perspective does make me realize that he was closer to the actual story (that there was none, this is a regular occurance) and how these kinds of incidents get blown up. I was just listening to a podcast of NPR's On The Media about campaign coverage in a segment called "Padding The Trail."

The National Journal's William Powers looked at campaign coverage and there's a similar example of a reporter watching something that happened countless times before and, almost by accident, turning it into "new" news.

BROOKE GLADSTONE: So now let's go to the last of the three soft story categories that you point to in your column - the "metastories."

WILLIAM POWERS: Yes. These are the stories that are about the story, in a way - stories that are about the contenders using the media to shape their own images, or, secondarily, opponents allegedly taking swipes at each other and the media sort of supposedly seeing the warfare behind the scenes, the prime example this summer I think being the alleged story of Obama's wife, Michelle Obama, taking a swipe at the Clintons over how they run their family.

BROOKE GLADSTONE: Which she really didn't.

WILLIAM POWERS: Which she really didn't, which was a kind of a stump speech she had been giving for some time, but one reporter in Chicago said it - almost in passing in a piece - that it looked like she was taking a swipe at the Clintons, and it just became this giant meta-phenomenon that really amounted to nothing.

It was one of these kind of not really a fully fleshed-out story, but let's do it. What the heck. It's all about how they're playing in the media.

The concept of one reporter noticing something others missed is kind of a tradition in journalism. But what about the reporter that makes the mistake that all the others didn't because they are witnessing for the first time, something that every else has seen?

I know exactly how such mistakes happen and it's really a flaw in the system rather than the individual reporter's fault. It's a systematic failure in the way news is produced.

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