URI discussion: Obama and the media

During a Thursday evening panel discussion as part of URI's Journalism Day, Marc Genest saved his biggest salvo for last.

Genest, a professor at the Naval War College in Newport, spent most of his speaking time excoriating what he called an overwhelming media bias in favor of Barack Obama during the presidential campaign. He was joined on the panel by Jill Lawrence, a veteran political reporter for USA Today, and myself.

Lawrence defended the performance of MSM print reporters such as herself. I generally agreed, I also cited something of a collective media crush for Obama. It didn't matter, I added, since the media don't decide elections and since the economy was the dominant issue.

Toward the end of the discussion, Genest said the media's greatest failing is superficiality, and that because of that, news consumers should pursue information from a variety of sources. The latter point is irrefutable, although Genest veered too far into an elitist point of view when he dismissed the downsized ProJo as not worth reading. Better, he said, to get info online from such sources as the New York Times, the Washington Post, and the Economist.

That's good as far as it goes, but it doesn't go far enough. While the ProJo's decline is undeniable, the paper, supplemented by independent blogs (from the left and right) and other sources, is a necessary read for informed Rhode Islanders.

The panel noted some obvious grounds for criticism: an overemphasis on the horserace, rather than issue-oriented political reporting, among others. Ultimately, though, the absence of a new commercial format for sustaining journalism is a far bigger problem for civil society than what some describe as media bias.

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