Measuring Depth  | American Journalism Review
 AJR  Letters
From AJR,   December/January 2004

Measuring Depth   

Rachel Smolkin's article on press coverage and presidents was far less helpful than it could have been because the writer was too focused on using negative versus positive coverage as the measure of balance ("Are the News Media Soft on Bush?" October/November). The standard should have more to do with depth than with disposition of coverage.

The problem with television coverage in general, and much newspaper coverage, is that it is far too shallow.

Smolkin wants reporters to be tougher--but she focuses exclusively on their toughness toward their subjects. The measure of a reporter's toughness should not be how willing he or she is to say negative things about the subject of the report, but how willing he or she is to differ from other reporters.

There is safety in numbers, and most reporters seek it. Journalists are likely to follow the prevailing wisdom. This leads to the construction of narrative frameworks into which reporters fit their own stories.

One would assume that some presidents deserve more negative reporting because they are less good at their jobs, while others deserve more positive. Good reporting should reflect such differences dispassionately. This requires reporters who are able to report beyond the prevailing narratives. Most can't.

Cyril Jones-Kellett
The Southern Cross
San Diego, California




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