by Jeff Taylor
You don’t have to agree with Glenn Greenwald’s politics to see that he is on point in his critique of Politico editor John Harris. Basically, Greenwald caught Harris copping to chasing Web traffic after previously denying any such thing.
Greenwald further thinks that putting traffic counts first and foremost distorts what gets reported:
The belief that petty items will attract links is only one of the motives driving political journalists to fixate on trivialities, and it’s probably not even the most significant reason. “Reporting” gossip is incredibly easy to do, and requires little effort and, more importantly, no critical thought. … That’s the defining activity of the modern American political journalist: copy down what political officials and campaigns say. That’s what they consider to be “reporting.” Their “scoops” are determined by whoever gets chosen to be the first one to copy down (or cut and paste) those statements first. They focus on trivial stories not only because they think doing so will get them quick attention, but also because — by definition — trivial chatter requires no analysis, thought, or critical faculties. … It’s that the trashy gossip completely crowds out any discussion of anything that actually matters, allowing our government and political class generally to get away with the most extreme acts of corruption, lawbreaking and destruction while those assigned to “report” on what they’re doing prattle on about haircuts, horse races, and an endless stream of soap opera storylines.
I think Greenwald is confusing several things here — not the least of which is cause and effect — but the overall thrust is correct. There is simply little appetite among political journalists — be they online or otherwise — for stepping outside the pack and asking bigger questions.
Instead what we get is access journalism. Reporting that is defined — and delimited — by easy access to sources. And no where is the rebellion against access journalism more pronounced than in the sports world. That is why sites like Deadspin and SportsbyBrooks have such a following — and provoke such a strong reaction from access journalists who depend easy, trivial coverage to facilitate their access.