American Flag waving as seen from a below angle

The difference between reporting about policy and politics

In spring 2008 during my final interview for a prestigious post-graduate statehouse reporting internship, I got tripped up.

The impatient and inimitable Pennsylvania state government correspondent Pete Decoursey, a quirky Yale alumnus who passed in 2014, asked me to explain how I would approach my reporting on policy differently than my reporting on politics. I started. He corrected. I restarted. He interrupted. I faltered.

The truth was I didn’t yet grasp his point. He very carefully compartmentalized two kinds of government reporting: the legislating to solve problems and the campaigning to get elected power.

Both kinds of their reporting had their place but, looking back, that fellowship program, administered by a proud state government press corps, prided itself on knowing the difference. I must have made up for my fumbling that question because I got the role. Later I worked closely with Pete, who was challenging and particular and altogether effective in making me a better reporter in our short time together.

That experienced greatly influenced the body of my professional work, both the reporting and editing I’ve done and the young newsroom we’re growing at Technically Media.

I thought about this idea recently when I was watching this thoughtful¬†video.¬†The video’s title is about the New Green Deal but I think that obscures its even more important and interesting concept, that too often we in reporting roles get trapped in following the politics more than the policy.

For example, if you’re reading a story about whether a proposal will happen, rather than whether that proposal will help solve some problem, that’s politics over policy.

We do need campaign reporting. But we badly need reporters and news organizations to help dig into ideas and proposals and concepts on their merit. We help shape what is possible, and our responsibility above all else is to make the communities we serve smarter, kinder and better.

(American Flag photo by Jonathan Simcoe via Unsplash)