Useless v. useful journalism

Useless v. useful journalism
: William Powers is half right.

In the National Journal, he argues that it is time for journalists to make trouble again:

The best journalists are troublemakers, pot-stirrers, naysayers, dirt-eaters. When the whole culture is saying “Yes, yes, yes” to some sparkly idea or popular leader, we love nothing better than to be the ones who rush in screaming “No, no, no,” brandishing the ugly evidence. To the noble hack, there is no smell sweeter than the skunk spray of a major political scandal.

Which is exactly what nobody wants right now. The perfume of patriotism is wafting from every direction, including the media itself, and the whole culture is high on it and weirdly checked out. After all those long months of anxiety and worry, it’s clear that the public wants a break from all things troubling and downbeat. Iraq is liberated, and the president is a flying ace. Let’s forget our worries and have a nice long party. Maybe the economy will even come back and foot the bill.

It’s high time for journalists to start making trouble again…

Well, yes, but not trouble for trouble’s sake: pot-stirring as a sport and an end in itself.

Powers gives as an example of such good troublemaking the tempest in a thimble this week over the cost of Bush’s landing on the Abraham Lincoln.

That’s not good reporting. That’s just partisan pissing and network time-wasting that tires and disengages and pisses off the voters. IT HAS NO IMPACT ON OUR LIVES.

That, ladies and gentlemen, is the essential test of news: It has to have an impact on our lives. It has to matter. Or it’s not news.


Sorry, I’ll stop shouting now.

But I’m tired of partisan pissing — whether the urinal is George Bush’s flight or Bill Clinton’s sex life; both are fun for a gossipy giggle but neither matters about our lives; neither is the result of real reporting.

I’m tired of the morning shows turning into a showcase for emotional voyeurism. Every time a child disappears or a soldier dies, we get Couric or, God help us, Curry asking, pianissimo, how the survivors feel.

I’m tired of overlong, underedited thumbsucking stories in the big national papers (damnit, I’m busy: find the nearest period!).

I’m tired of quoting stars as if we should listen to anything they have to say that isn’t out of a script.

I tired of seeing politicians uselessly pissing at each other, egged on my media.

I want to see media demanding constructive work from leaders; I want to see them exposing issues involving not private parts but the public good. I want to see them do it with brevity, impact, and force.

Attack our desperate need for health insurance and the shameful cost of health care…. our continuing vulnerability in homeland security…. the ongoing accounting scandal not only in private industry but also in government (for example, New York authorities hiding revenue so they can get a fare increase)… the failures of education we can witness at any Burger King… the unspun need to get a grip on firearms and crime… the threats we face abroad even from some of our allies…

The list goes on and on.

That’s the kind of troublemaking Powers should be yearning.

Everything else is just gossip.