Government without a Free Press

This afternoon, I had the unique privilege of catching a lecture by David Sanger, New York Times White House Correspondent. I’ve never considered journalism as a career, but mornings with the Washington Post defined my early years: my dad drinking coffee and reciting the news in Section A, handing me the crossword in the Style section for the road.  I couldn’t pass up a chance to hear from someone on the front lines, working to reverse of what many of us believe to be a crumbling trust with the American people.

Sanger focused on the business model of the average American newspaper, facing declining subscriptions and resulting poor ad revenue. Advertisers may one day be enthusiastic to buy ad space on line, but in the mean time, print newspapers are suffering, stripping down their foreign bureaus in favor of using cheaper wire services. Sanger argued, and I agreed, that pulling reporters out of the field is necessarily declining the breadth and depth of reports we get overseas. Even more troubling to me is that print newspapers are scrapping their Washington departments, trending toward regional reporting.

That was a big shock to someone who puts national issues way ahead of state and local affairs; in my case, certainly a side effect of growing up outside Washington, DC. Meeting people at Cornell from all over the country, mainly those from small towns, has made me realize what a uniquely cosmopolitan orientation DC kids have: we can rattle off cabinet members and explain the committee system in Congress, but most of us couldn’t name our state senators or a handful of pressing issues to Montgomery County. I think that kind of environment has its upsides in the form of a global outlook and being well-informed, but it’s so easy to lose a sense of connection to your hometown when national politics are your local news. I do have a Maryland flag hanging in my room, but I love where I grew up because of its proximity to someplace else. Add in that almost all of us have parents that were born somewhere else, drawn to the Washington area for its once-booming job market, and you end up with a lot of people who say “I’m from Washington” even though they totally live in the suburbs.

My Stats project, examining what factors influence reelection rates, has also made me acutely aware that not all voters think in the same terms that my Maryland parents do: that electing a candidate from the right party to maintain a balance in Congress is more important than what they’ve done for our state. So many people I’ve met at Cornell have taught me that not everyone sees Washington as the be all and end all that many Americans – and their newspapers – seem to do today.

Amazing about how a lecture about the press can get you to reflect about your hometown, right?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *