Evan Coyne Maloney has some thoughts on Dana Milbank’s stunt of appearing on the Chris Matthews show last week in a hunter’s orange safety vest and ski cap, and the somewhat tepid response of the Washington Post’s ombudswoman:
How about admitting that opinion sometimes sneaks into the writing of even the most earnest “objective reporter”? How about doing away with the labels “reporter” versus “columnist”?
This discussion goes to the very heart of the problems that plague the modern news media. Outlets insist that their “reporters” are objective, while “columnists” aren’t held to the same supposedly-stringent rules of objectivity. But what distinguishes a “reporter” from a “columnist”? If you look through many newspapers, you may have a hard time figuring out which is which. Even the Washington Post and WashingtonPost.com don’t seem to agree how to categorize someone like Milbank. If two sides of the same news organization can’t figure it out, how can they expect the reader to understand the distinction?
I don’t think Milbank’s the bad guy here. His situation is merely the result of the unrealistic set of rules and assumptions that govern the modern newsroom. Milbank’s just being Milbank. If you read him regularly, you see the same kind of snarky–dare I say blog-like–attitude in his writing that you see on display when he mocks the Vice President by donning day-glo hunting gear on a national news program.
So, maybe it’s time for the establishment media to rewrite its rules. The existing environment doesn’t seem to lead to a very good product, and it’s preventing people like Milbank from doing the sort of work that they so clearly ache to do.
I agree. (Although I’m not sure how much I’m actually looking forward to journalists going on TV dressed like Floyd R. Turbo…) The continued effects of the “mass with class” era of American newspapers are stifling journalism. When there was only one or two big city newspapers and three TV networks for the vast majority of Americans to turn to for their news, this was, arguably, a reasonable institutional tone. But between the Blogosphere, TV programming such as The Daily Show (honest Gov. Blagojevich, it’s satire!) and talk radio, the universally bland tone of newspaper journalism only hurts itself.
The “New Journalism” of Tom Wolfe, Gay Talese and others in the 1960s was one attempt to update the tone of longer-form reporting. It’s happening today anyhow, thanks to the Blogosphere; but maybe it’s time for newspapers themselves to jump on board, much like the British media’s long history of wild diversity of attitude and opinion.