Tuesday, February 23, 2010

WSJ beats Times, Post to the point

In our era of the ever-shirnking attention spans, most readers don't get past the first few paragraphs of a story, let alone the headline. It can be hard to find a news story that delivers that benefits readers with the real goods within just a few inches.

When the US Senate on Monday voted to end debate and move toward passage of a bill aimed at spurring job creation via business tax credits, it was the politics of the vote rather than the policy itself that was emphasized in two of our nation's leading newspapers. The New York Times and The Washington Post highlighted the minimal partisan capitulation of five Republicans rather than on the machinery of the bill, which came later in the story - but not until after a reader had been drug through the polemics of Capitol Hill bartering.

The Times' 5 Republicans Help Advance Jobs Measure - the national edition print headline - ran for seven paragraphs before offering a single detail of how the Senate bill would theorhetically create jobs. In fact, a print reader would have to flip through to page A18 to get to those details, an effort many readers won't make, instead taking away the politics of the vote but not the substance of the legislation.

The Post, though employing their own reporter, offered no alternative coverage of the bill's passage. In Senate advances job-creation bill with GOP help, The Post goes six paragraphs about the bipartisan breakthrough before bothering to mention the details of what it was the senators agreed upon.

The Wall Street Journal, however managed to address the bipartisan support without pushing the legislative details to the back of the article. In Senate advances jobs bill, The Journal includes the bill's primary policy of hiring tax breaks for businesses in the second graph. The fourth graph breaks-down those tax breaks and the fifth graph offers other pieces included in the legislation.

All this vital policy information was included in less space that it took The Times and The Post to get past the politics of the day's session. The Journal article certainly includes references to the adversarial political climate in Washington, but does so in a manner deferential to the reader's interest in the actual legislation that has moved closer to becomming law.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Times Fronts Dem's Retirement, Fall-Out

The New York Times may claim a national scope, but its front page on Tuesday catered to the political sensibility of beltway Washington.

"Lighting a Fuse for Rebellion on the Right" is a feature story profiling the popular Tea Party movement. Considering the breadth of protest groups nationwide that have alligned under the banner, such a feature does have national significance.

But political party/movement happenings can be overemphasized.

The Times includes an original story on the retirement of Indiana Senator Evan Bayh. A Democrat, Bayh's retirement fits into a larger political picture focused on the partisan nature of elections. In other words, "What does this mean for my party?"

The Times' headline, "Democrats Reel As Senator Says No to 3rd Term," says as much.

This focus comes at the cost of more pertinent national news.

The Des Moines Register relegated the Bayh retirement to an AP wire story on the second page. For a front page, it ran a McClatchy-Tribune News Service wire story on the growing strains on the Social Security fund due to increased early retirements brought on by the economic recession. Hardly more than a regional paper, the Register had more of a sense for national news that most impacts its readers.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Reporters Enable Partisans

In modern reporting of government and public policy, the news too often gets confused with the political talking points of the politicians they interview. As a result, readers can come away from a story not knowing rhetoric from reality.

In todays's Des Moines Register, columnist Richard Doak suggests that news reporters stop playing the "fair & balanced" game with the pols and start reporting more hard information.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Fox Puts Spin First

Fox News.com made an interesting point of focus among their front-page headlines today.

Like its online counterparts at MSNBC.com and CNN.com, Fox News.com included a prominent headline about the advancement of Iran's nuclear program. However, unlike the others they don't give the nukes story a photograph - which would signal greater emphasis on the story.

Instead, Fox News.com devotes it's sole headlines picture to a piece of faux wit: "Worst(cossed-out) Best Week Ever?" is emblazoned atop an image of the Capitol burried in snow, a lone skier treking past. With a wink, this line suggests to the reader that the heavy snow now burying Washington, D.C. and shutting-down the federal gov't is a blessing in disguise: When not in session, Congress can't spend money - and this is "Best".

The image links to a Wall Street Journal (a member of the Fox-media family) story about the reactions of Congress to the blizzard-induced government shut-down. Headlined "Snowball Fight on the Hill Over Gov't Shutdown", Oklahoma Senator Tom Coburn is quoted first, calling the shutdown a "dream". He refers not just to enjoying a bit of leisure time, but the money he says gov't inactivity saves. The story then quotes Nevada Senator Harry Reid joking that the snow-closure is still no match for Republican obstruction of legislation. No real news is included, just snarky pol quotes.

By placing unwarrented emphasis on this short, purely political non-news exchange of jabs, Fox News.com glorifies terms of spin rather than constructive policy discussion.