We’re entering a critical period in American politics and American political journalism is not up to the task. Donald Trump’s campaign and presidency have exposed and exploited chronic weaknesses like never before. And despite some progress, elite political press coverage insufficiently rebuts lies; normalizes abnormal behavior; asserts false equivalences; remains overly susceptible to spectacle, conflict, and gamesmanship; fails to contextualize the news with expertise – and on and on.
Over the past several years, a considerable number of expert groups, commissions, panels and individuals have voiced elements of what, writ large, is a fairly coherent and consistent critique of the current practice of political journalism at our major news outlets (see above). But on a day-to-day basis, it’s diffuse. Press Watch will aggregate, amplify, curate and centralize the consistent application of that critique by a network of smart, critical readers.
We’ve also identified some solutions, such as prominently rebutting misinformation; practicing radical transparency; holding politicians accountable to the citizens’ agenda; imbuing our work with civics lessons; pursuing solutions journalism; and encouraging civic engagement. But too much of our discussion of these solutions is theoretical. There’s an urgent need for practical, recreatable models and best practices.
The work product
- A four-day-a-week, real-time assessment of political coverage in the form of a column with critiques harvested from a wide network of expert readers. Our first publishing partner is Salon.com
- Guided, goal-oriented workshops – physical and virtual, held in collaboration with journalism schools and other organizations — that dive into specific elements of political reporting and generate concrete deliverables including guidelines, examples, and recreatable models.
Political reporters are hard to influence. But they are more likely to respond to pressure if the critiques are reasoned, detailed, constant, and coming from respected members of their profession and other experts. They are more likely to do their jobs better if we offer them plausible alternative approaches that don’t create more work or risk. Meanwhile, a lively ongoing discussion of political coverage will encourage the public to read more critically.
The project lead
Dan Froomkin is a trailblazer in the area of online accountability journalism with 21 years of experience building, editing and contributing to websites including the Huffington Post, The Intercept, and the Nieman Foundation’s Watchdog Project. Over 12 years at the Washington Post, he served as Editor of the website and wrote its enormously popular White House Watch column, which aggregated and amplified insightful political coverage. He has taught online journalism at the Poynter Institute and the American University Graduate School of Communication.