Friday, August 20, 2010

The Journalistic Sweet 17

The other night at work, I was chatting up the upcoming elections with some of my coworkers, and it was... disturbingly easy to play up my side of the ticket, particularly to a store full of Republicans.

Then I found out why, and it just got even more disturbing.

You see, I've been working at my current place of employment for three and a quarter years now, about, and over that time I seem to have become the resident political wonk. Over this time, I seem to have wedged myself into a position where I have become the sole conduit of political news for a number of my coworkers.

Now, on one hand, this is kind of cool. Hey, I can tell these guys anything I want and they'll swallow it whole! I could just make stuff up! Why not? They'll believe me! Where else are they getting their news?

And that's the other hand. That's the problem. If I make stuff up, or even if I simply get my information wrong, I've just made these people dumber for having listened to me. That's the LAST thing I want. No person should be getting their news from only one source. I'm flattered that it's me in this case, but I don't want that kind of status. I really, really don't. Spread your news-gathering around. Get multiple perspectives. At the very least, know that one person can only report on so much in a day.

So what follows is a suggestion from me of some people I suggest collecting news from. News organizations are one thing- you can get your news from organizations, but absent knowing the specific name, one tends to assume that a person follows the organization's in-house stylebook. Some of them are quite good; just yesterday I was sitting here praising Vanity Fair. I mean specific names. Names that you follow from place to place, wherever they happen to be.

My names- there are 17 of them- where you can currently find them, and links to samples of each of them at the top of their game (note that some of the links are the start of multi-parters):

Christiane Amanpour, This Week (ABC)
Stephen Colbert, Colbert Report (Comedy Central)
Anderson Cooper, Anderson Cooper 360 (CNN)/60 Minutes (CBS) (warning: video is on the graphic side)
Sanjay Gupta, Time/CNN
Gwen Ifill, Washington Week (PBS)
Jim Lehrer, NewsHour (PBS)
Laura Ling, Vanguard (Current, though she's on hiatus at the moment)
Lisa Ling, Oprah (syndicated)/Explorer (National Geographic)
Rachel Maddow, Rachel Maddow Show (MSNBC)
Soledad O'Brien, CNN
Nate Silver, FiveThirtyEight
Shepard Smith, Studio B (Fox News)
Jon Stewart, Daily Show (Comedy Central)
Andrew Sullivan, The Atlantic/New York Magazine
Matt Taibbi, Rolling Stone
Mariana Van Zeller, Vanguard (Current)
Fareed Zakaria, Washington Post/Time/Fareed Zakaria GPS (CNN)

Ifill and Lehrer's clips are pretty calm, collected. You don't really see why they'd be 'top of their game'. Exactly. They don't really trade in highlight-reel 80-yard touchdown smackdowns. That's not what they do; never has been. They gently steer. They grind out 4-yard gain after 4-yard gain, picking up first downs all day long. They're not flashy. They're not sexy. But when it comes time to decide who's getting picked to moderate Presidential debates- Lehrer repeatedly- they get the call for a reason.

Smith, I've always thought of as the only sane man on Fox News. The guy that will, when the rest of the network has gone too far, step in and make an honest, professional attempt to pull them back. I think he'd be immensely more useful- and probably a lot happier- if he were to jump ship to somewhere else.

Sullivan is by and large a linker- he will throw out a link, give a quote, maybe make a short comment, but he's not going to give very many involved pieces. The thing about him is that you have to keep paying attention, keep up with him, see where his mind is going from minute to minute. And it's going pretty fast; he will blog insatiably. I link to one of his few-and-far-between long pieces.

One might also look at Chris Matthews, but you have to be lucky and catch him on the right day. Most often, he's one more random blowhard, but every once in a while he gets that to work in his favor. Sometimes it takes a blowhard to beat a blowhard, as seen here in Matthews' best moment.

One thing on this list: I need to go find some more good columnists. It's pretty TV-heavy.

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