Our class has read several articles recently related to the coverage of politics and the relationship between politicians and media. In Kevin Barnhurst’s “The Makers of Meaning: National Public Radio and the New Long Journalism,” the author discusses at great length how long journalism led to more “interpretive news analysis” and less event-centered coverage. Students in our class debated the merits of long journalism and its place in our media and the coverage of politics. Some were in favor of it, while others preferred shorter and less interpretive pieces. In today’s rapidly changing media landscape, there does not appear to be a consensus on how politics should be covered. This raises an important question: how should politics be covered? Should political journalists utilize the long form analytical style to raise questions and help readers connect the dots in what can very likely be a complex and complicated issue? Should they, instead, offer “insider baseball” fare for political junkies? Or are simplified, shorter stories with straight facts — that let the reader form their own opinion — the way to go?
Long-form journalism has come to stand for narrative and in-depth reporting. These stories seek to explain a complex issue and raise questions or make connections that a reader might not consider. They accomplish this by using at least a dozen or more sources on both sides to add credibility and depth and expounding on key points for readers that are hungry for more detail. According to NiemanLab, “digital long-form [journalism]…represents a major shift away from brief breaking news toward a business model built on a carefully crafted multimedia product sensitive to users’ appreciation of multimedia narrative aesthetics.”
Many political media outlets have adopted long-form journalism in order to diversify and stand out in an increasingly crowded field. John Heilemann, one of two pioneers of Bloomberg Media’s new news division “Bloomberg Politics,” recently said in an interview with Washingtonian Magazine that, when it comes to politics, readers “want to know the significance of what was said and some smart analysis of what was said.” Mark Halperin, Heilemann’s business partner in the new venture, said that covering politics like baseball wasn’t applicable for everyone in the country. “There’s a great way to cover politics that’s not just being a trade publication for Washington, DC, but thinking about all manners of ways in which politics, broadly defined, intersects with other parts of the country,” Halperin said. That’s how most people follow politics, as opposed to the people “who are only interested in bills getting out of subcommittee, or who’s hired which staffer for their Iowa campaign.”
According to Halperin, the problem with covering politics like sports is that “sports is usually fun to watch on its own.” Politics, he said, is rarely overtly interesting. During the CPAC, Bloomberg Politics devoted much of its coverage and broadcast time to covering stories from both an analytical and anthropological perspective. He said his group is seeking to integrate television, digital text and digital video reporting. The editorial mantra is to be nonpartisan and “not dumbed down.” The idea is to offer a sophisticated take on events.
The boom in political-journalism has caused Politico, which pioneered the minute-by-minute updates, to change its editorial model. The website that was known for frequent bursts of mini-scoops and information is now placing a greater emphasis on longer, in-depth magazine-style and “explainer” stories, said Jim VandeHei, its chief executive and president. The goal, said VandeHei, is to distinguish Politico from its peers by being both “fast and furious” on the news as well as authoritative about it. “We caught people flatfooted when we first started” eight years ago, he said. “We were fast and edgy and almost everyone else was slow and dull. Now everyone is fast and edgy, and Twitter is faster than all of us.”
In an increasingly crowded field for political journalists where there is a glut of stories that often are not substantive and don’t seek to explain matters to readers, I believe politics can be covered best by using long-form stories. While some readers may think a journalist is taking a side on a story if they utilize long-form, it is critical for the writer to analyze all of the factors that may be at play in their piece and raise questions where necessary. Politics, legislation, and campaigns are highly complex and complicated for even the most skilled political reporter. In order for our electorate and readers to be informed, long-form journalism is essential to understanding how politics affects everyone individually.