Ten Miles Square

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June 14, 2012 11:25 AM Modern World Update (Media Division)

By Jonathan Bernstein

Could this sort of thing change the way reporters do their business?

Buzzfeed’s Rebecca Elliott did a story about Barack Obama’s fundraising, in which she overlooked a point that’s been made before: comparing Obama’s fundraising totals to the same time in 2008 ignores an important contextual point — that Obama was running in a contested primary back then, and isn’t now.

What’s interesting, apart from the substance of the story, is that (political scientist) Seth Masket tweeted back:

I actually got interviewed for this one and explained the oversight. Didn’t affect the article, and I didn’t get quoted.

And (political scientist) Richard Skinner piled on:

I said same thing, she agreed, then I speculated a little about Pacific NW progressivism. She used the 2nd, not the 1st.

Seth wrote a short blog post about it later.

Here’s thing — can the ability of expert sources to compare notes after the interview, in full view of anyone interested, change things?

You know, lots of us (by which I mean both political scientists and anyone who has expertise and gets on reporters’ dial lists) have had the experience of being interviewed as “experts”, only to find that what a reporter really wanted was to find someone to say something the interviewer believed, but needed someone “objective” to say. That’s a well-known phenomenon. What happens, however, when those experts choose to report on that interaction — and have an easy way to do so that the rest of their “expert” class will see? Or perhaps not that version, but the one where the reporter calling you doesn’t seem to know the basics, or the one where, as in the example above, the reporter ignores everything you said and writes the same story she intended to write.

And not only that (after all, email lists uniting expert communities go back more than 20 years), but the combination of twitter plus blogs is something that the expert community use that the reporters interested in those experts can see, too. In other words, there’s now a risk that if you consult experts, you’ll wind up getting a blast of negative publicity both in that expert community and among your peers in the press.

Just to be clear: there are tons of reporters out there who do their jobs extremely well, know the substance of what they’re writing about, and behave responsibly when they’re reporting on something new to them by reading up on it and using expert sources to help them make sense of it. Just…not all of them.

Does that matter? How will it play out? I have no idea! It just strikes me as new, and interesting.

[Cross-posted at A plain blog about politics]

Jonathan Bernstein is a political scientist who writes about American politics, especially the presidency, Congress, parties, and elections.