Political Reporters Digging Deeper

Should news media reporting be of the “he said, she said” variety, faithfully quoting what people of differing viewpoints allege, and nothing more? Or should reporters dig deeper and search for the demonstrable truth?

That’s one of the recurring debates in this sparsely populated corner of the blogosphere. It’s our little version of “Less Filling!” “Tastes Great!” The “dig deeper” crowd often argues that journalists are digging much less today than the Woodwards, Bernsteins, Halberstams and other journalists were doing in the halcyon days American journalism.

Well, it looks as if more news outlets actually are at least trying to head in the “dig deeper” direction when it comes to political reporting. The Annenberg School of Public Affairs at the University of Pennsylvania recently took a look at how many news outlets are now carrying “ad watch” type stories, where political ad claims are dissected by reporters to determine their relative level of truthfulness. These features typically check ad claims against third party data and experts to determine the truth.

It turns out the number of “ad watch” type stories more than TRIPLED between the 2000 and 2006 campaign cycles. And the trend looks as if it will continue into this campaign cycle, even on TV news programs. About 39% of TV stations that originate news programming ran ad watch type stories in the 2006 campaign season, and 46% of stations plan to run them in the 2008 season, with another 34% “unsure” (so, presumably considering it?).

This is an encouraging trend. I oppose censoring or any type of regulation of political advertising, but I’m all for journalists shining a light on claims made in ads and on the campaign trail. I’d love to see more of the same type of claim checking in reporting about business, international affairs, and domestic policy.

Maybe journalism is headed in the right direction after all?

– Loveland

3 thoughts on “Political Reporters Digging Deeper

  1. Some of my favorite pieces in the Strib are those little features titled something like “Is that a fact?” A reporter or editor would look at, say, an ad or a statement made by a politician and, as you might expect, pick it apart and analyze its truthiness.

    These pieces were regularly the most interesting, intelligent, helpful part of the paper. I believe they were often written by Eric Black when he was still a Stribber. He’s an expert and making the complex seem much less so.

    Unfortunately, these “Is that a fact?” pieces, if I recall correctly, are relegated to the Sunday “Opinion Exchange” section. That’s a damn shame.

  2. C'mon says:

    You’re posing the wrong question (He said, she said vs digging deeper).

    Journalism needs to focus on he did, she did.

    That’s why journalism fails so miserably.

  3. jloveland says:

    “He did, she did” is a primary focus of ad watch features.

    Example: “The candidate says Rowdyville needs leaders with stronger family values, but it’s worth noting he voted against a, b, and c (family-related votes) and has done x, y and z in his own family life.”

    Ad watch features dig a little deeper into what is behind the words in the ads, including candidates’ deeds.

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