The Columns

Traditional Journalism Critical to Understanding Debt Crisis

— by on July 19th, 2011

Although social media seem to dominate conversations about the future of journalism, the current debt-ceiling impasse underscores the value and importance of traditional journalism, according to Pamela Luecke, a journalism professor at Washington and Lee University.

“I don’t mean to dismiss the power and potential of new forms of journalism,” said Luecke, the Donald W. Reynolds Professor of Business Journalism at W&L. “But this isn’t an easy subject – the debt ceiling, the national debt, the deficit, budget issues. These are not topics that can be condensed to 140 characters on Twitter. This is where mature, seasoned journalists who understand economics, who understand the political process, really come into the spotlight.

“There has been a trend toward news websites and organizations aggregating information and thinking that is sufficient for the journalism we need to have a free and democratic society,” she continued. “This is a prime example of where you need people who understand complexity and can translate that to the general public.”


AUDIO


In Luecke’s view, the national print media, especially The New York Times, Washington Post and Wall Street Journal, have been doing an excellent and exhaustive job of covering the story for many months. The story is not as easy for much of television news, she added, because it does not lend itself to short sound bites, and television’s use of pundits and partisans simply adds to the polarization.

But Luecke also said that citizens have a responsibility to educate themselves on the issues, and that means both investing time and seeking out different perspectives.

“You can’t just say, ‘I want to understand this topic, and I’ve got one minute to do it.’ Not all stories can be reduced to a 15-second sound bite, so it’s going to take a little work to understand this issue. We’re citizens in a democracy. We have a responsibility to be informed about this issue,” Luecke said. “There are different points of view and legitimate differences of opinion about what ought to be done and what would happen if nothing is done. I think we need to seek out opinions and points of view that differ from ours, even though it’s not always comfortable.”

If someone is accustomed to getting his or her news from one specific source, say CNN or MSNBC, Luecke said, then he or she should take time to see what is being said at Fox News, and vice versa. Luecke thinks that citizens have a responsibility to understand the differences in the way the issue is being presented

“I think journalists have a responsibility to present all sides as well, and I think many are doing that,” she added. “But if you feel that your news source is not doing that, there are many ways that you can get other perspectives on this issue.”

One place to get other perspectives on the debt ceiling, Luecke noted, are the numerous blogs written by economists – the so-called “econoblogs.”

“Someone who wants an unfiltered perspective on what economists are thinking can tap into this,” she said. “Economists are not a monolith. They have very, very different perspectives on this issue and on most issues. By reading these blogs, you feel as if you have a front-row seat on this high-level debate.”