Bloggers, journalists, political scientists, and political practitioners need to stop disparaging each other’s work and learn about the strengths and expertise of others in the reporting and analysis of politics in the United States.
My qualifications to make this pitch are modest: I am a rank amateur blogger (new at it, almost no readership); I am not quite a political scientist (all but dissertation and university employment); I have never worked as a journalist (or learned to write like one); and I am a marginal political practitioner (my expertise is in political technology, not raw politics).
Though there are many exceptions, I often hear those in each field scorn the others.
- I have listened to political scientists scoffing at journalists for their use of mere anecdotes to draw conclusions. Good students of politics, they say, reason from more carefully gathered evidence and employ a much more rigorous methodology
- I seldom bring up a relevant political science finding to a journalist without getting an earful on the subject of poor academic writing, or to a political practitioner (consultant or candidate) without hearing how badly most political scientists are divorced from the real world.
- As for political bloggers and journalists, there seems another tangle there. Attacks on the mainstream media, or on specific reporters (particularly for “bias”) are a staple of political blogging. Worth reading for the reporters’ angle is Dana Milbank’s recent article “My Bias for Mainstream News.” It is fair to say that many professional journalists look down on most political bloggers.
- For another angle on bloggers, read Stuart Rothenberg, a professional political analyst who took aim at amateur analysis with his article in Roll Call last year: “House Race Bloggers, So Little Knowledge, So Much Hot Air.” I prefer expert analyses, but the political junkie in me wants timely information.
- Politicians and political consultants that I know are generally exasperated with most journalists and what they see as lazy, shallow, uncharitable and unfair coverage of our politics and politicians.
A few unremarkable suggestions follow (I hope to revisit this topic after the benefit of more thought):
- If you are a blogger, a professional journalist, or political practitioner who covers American Politics, you cannot a great job of it without being informed by statistical thinking and without being aware of the best political science on your subject. Much of the writing out there betrays rampant ignorance of established findings.
- Respect how differences in publishing speed affect each field. I have heard political science ridiculed as “slow journalism.” Extra time, however, provides significant advantages for serious analysis. Journalism nowadays might just as well be called “slow blogging,” but we hope that extra time, training, editing and higher standards refines copy.
- Embrace the wonder of thousands of bloggers “covering” politics—especially the up-to-the-minute accounts of happenings as they take place. Information—raw, rich material—is now available about numerous happenings and debates that were uncovered in the press—and many of those things are very important (or important to a specific audience that was previously unserved).
- If you are a political practitioner, consider blogging yourself, in spite of the risks that what you say one day will be covered unfairly. People would like to get to know you.
- Engage with those who write in a different forum. Find those who are doing the best work – and those who are not.
The information revolution is hitting politics now. It needs thoughtful coverage from all angles. My own bias is to try to find those who are doing the best work in political analysis regardless of where they publish. It is a fun time to be in the field.