Thursday, September 11, 2008

This is kind of annoying

You can't say the folks downtown don't cover politics, can you? I mean, look at the centerpiece -- Our Governor will play That Governor in the debate rehearsals! Isn't that enough politics for you?

Well, to avoid getting all involved in the journalism food fight over to the Log, here's a quick reminder: Journalism is an industry. That's not intended as an all-purpose explanation of journalism's ideological content (though it does put some ideological features into context). It's a reminder that the ways in which "news" is identified, gathered, processed and packaged reflect particular industrial needs. News is timely; partly because of that, it's episodic, rather than systematic. It's interested in things that happen, rather than things that have been happening for a long time, or tend to happen in particular patterned ways owing to particular circumstances.

What we end up with is a lot of "politics" coverage that has very little to do with politics and a lot to do with tactics. So we see a lot of stuff about who's shifted to what position, and who's playing which card, and what the other experts say about those two conditions, but almost nothing about how the larger strategic system works -- say, who's allowed to vote and who isn't. Like this:

The chairman of the Republican Party in Macomb County Michigan, a key swing county in a key swing state, is planning to use a list of foreclosed homes to block people from voting in the upcoming election as part of the state GOP’s effort to challenge some voters on Election Day.

Which is only part of a larger strategic issue if, oh, you're interested in systematic ways in which people are excluded from voting -- like, say, the photo ID law in Indiana (if you're actually interested in politics, rather than tactics, go have a look at Andrew Hacker's fine piece in the current New York Review of Books).

Now. Why is that of interest here? Because if you live in the "Who's Got Change?" circulation area, you're getting tactics, not politics. You might not know that Macomb County thinks it's technically part of Alabama, because the local paper doesn't seem to think that's a big deal compared with Our Governor having a role in debate prep. (Try it: Plug "Macomb," "Republican" and "foreclosure" into the search on the Freep homepage.) Why does The Ridger, all the way off on Planet Maryland, have this story before my local paper does?

(Preview: Bits of Sarah Palin interview are emerging. The candidate seems unqualified to TA an undergraduate course in World Since 1945, let alone whatever goes with that job in Washington she's applying for.)

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