When the topic of the demise of the newspaper industry comes up, a lot of people seem to forget how different small market journalism is from national journalism. Obviously, I’d like to see Fred Hiatt and Adam Nagourney (for example) lose their jobs, but I’d hate to see some hardworking beat reporter in a third-tier city like mine be unemployed. Thinking about this, I was reminded of a post on the blog I used to write for about how a local reporter was aghast at the gullibility of the national media with respect to Scott McClellan. Local reporter Rachel Barnhart wrote:
Traitor! Sellout! Opportunist!
Scott McClellan may be all of those things, but the self-righteousness of the media covering his new book absolutely amazes me.[….]
Journalists find out pretty quick the job of spokesperson is designed to serve the agency’s best interest. It’s designed to be the mouthpiece for the person at the helm. It’s designed to be a buffer between the media and the top dogs. Sometimes, these positions are purely patronage jobs. Sometimes, spokespeople form a very effective wall between the media and information that serves the public.
I say this after 10 years covering local news. It’s no different on the national level. Government agencies have adopted public relations models that the private sector has used for years. I’m not saying it’s right, but that’s the system….I try to avoid talking to spokespeople for my stories as much as possible.
Nearly that very same day, there was the following exchange in a WaPo reporter chat:
SW Nebraska: Will any future president be able to do the job on the press, Congress and the public that George Bush has been able to do? What about the politicization of the Justice Department, science, etc? It seems that McClellan has taken the press to task in his book. Will the press be so cooperative with a President again or has the media been reminded that they actually have an important, difficult job to do?
Anne E. Kornblut: I haven’t read McClellan’s book yet, but really look forward to it, especially on the point you raise. My immediate reaction upon hearing he’d said that was, “Wait, what!? Isn’t it the job of those employed at the White House to be straightforward in the first place?”
I don’t know for sure why local reporters are often much savvier and tougher than national ones, but I think it is related to the fact that reporters in podunk towns have nothing to gain professionally or financially from getting into the good graces of local muckety mucks. A reporter from a small city will never appear on “Meet the Press” or go on wingnut welfare or get access to write a best-selling book about Condi Rice.