New Journalism guru Jay Rosen proposes three questions for Kevin Drum (Three Questions for Kevin Drum):
- Is the press, properly understood, a political animal?
- If so, what kind of politics should it have?
- How do we know if the press has got the politics part right?
No one asked me, but I'll go ahead and give my answers anyway.
One caveat, I wouldn't phrase the questions as about "the press," but rather, about journalism. For me, "the press" means distributors of information. Entertainment is part of "the press." PR is part of "the press." The government is part of "the press." I know that "the press" and journalism are often used as synonyms, but I think it confuses things somewhat.
Is journalism, properly understood, a political animal?
Of course it is. How could it not be? That is sort of one of the main points of the First Amendment, is it not? When one reports on political issues, it is inevitable that the reporting will become part of the political cycle. At the very least there is an "observer effect". Carlyle attributed Edmund Burke with claiming that there were three estates in parliament and a fourth estate in the press gallery. The name "Fourth Estate" stuck, with good reason, as it is a fairly accurate depiction of the role journalism plays in government.
I think the most trouble comes when journalists try to deny this. See also, Instapundit
If so, what kind of politics should it have?
Almost any damn kind it pleases. Journalism isn't a single monolithic institution. It is a cacophony of voices.
In many ways it is part and parcel of democracy, which is political by definition, but doesn't have a particular "politics." Rather, democracy has particular processes (which exclude at some point certain forms of politics - anti-democratic ones). We may not agree on the ends in democracy, but we have a working consensus on the means.
Journalism is the same. Have whatever "politics" you desire, but adhere to a few process-oriented rules: transparency, accuracy, fairness, open access, etc. There will never be perfect agreement on what these entail, precisely, but we should be able to achieve a good working consensus, just as we have for democracy.
How do we know if journalism has got the politics part right?
Journalism is a means and journey, not an end. Just as our understanding of democracy has developed and changed (universal sufferage, new constitutional rights), so will our understanding of the processes of journalism. Isn't blogging sort of like universal sufferage for journalism? The best we can try to do is figure out ways that journalism can be more transparent, more accurate, etc.