Friday, January 16, 2004

Welcome to the Campaign Desk

The announcement by Columbia Graduate School of Journalism that they'll be running a realtime press criticism website is excellent news.

One of the minor rituals of American presidential politics is the post-election self-examination (or perhaps I should say self-flagellation) by the press. Quadrennially, we regret having pursued some lines of inquiry while ignoring others, or having gotten caught up in momentary feeding frenzies over unimportant things, or having been too susceptible to spin -- and then we resolve to do a better job next time. But now we have a new tool. In 2004, the Web makes it possible to analyze and criticize press coverage in real time, so that suggestions for improved coverage might actually be heeded, and incorporated into campaign coverage, while the campaign is still under way.

Thanks to generous funding from foundations -- mainly the Rockefeller Family Fund, the Revson Foundation, and the Open Society Institute -- we have set up a campaign press criticism "war room" here at the Journalism School, with the beginnings of a full-time professional staff of seven that will monitor as much of the campaign coverage as possible, and write about it here. The managing editor of, Steve Lovelady, is already on board, and he and Mike Hoyt, the editor of CJR, are well into the hiring process. Steve is a veteran journalist who earlier served as a deputy page-one editor at the Wall Street Journal; then, as part of Gene Roberts's dream team at the Philadelphia Inquirer, helped supervise eleven Pulitzer Prize-winning works of journalism over twenty years; and, more recently, was an editor-at-large at Time Inc. Bryan Keefer, assistant managing editor, was one of the co-founders of the website will be updating the site several times daily, with particular emphasis on speed when the staff feels it can get inside the news cycle and try to improve coverage as it's being formed.

A few assurances are in order: The Desk will be politically nonpartisan. While it will call attention to journalistic sins, both of omission and commission, it will by no means be exclusively a finger-wagging operation. It will have a lively, engaged tone, not a grim, censorious one. One of the Desk's important functions will be to praise work of high quality, and one of its most useful aspects will be its ability to bring distinguished work in the local press to national attention, instantly and (through links) in full.
So, essentially, it's a group blog. Fair enough, they're popular these days. The important thing here is that they have the imprimatur of the CJR. It'll ensure that its findings can't be easily dismissed and reporters can feel like they can rely on it as a source of information. Given the thirst for "campaign stories" and the media's love of navel-gazing, it could easily become a popular destination too, although I get the feeling that at this point the big blogs (like Calpundit, Atrios, Josh Marshall, Sully et al) already are.

Then again, its expressed non-partisanship could mean that it reaches for a nonexistent "balance" between deceit and truth, but let's be optimistic, hmm?

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