Reporting on politics is a black hole

Garret Reich

Politics is a hundred vicious circles, neatly packaged into a black hole with a bow that strangles those who hope to make a difference in the world.

Once, that concept intrigued me. It excited me. It drew me in – as I have heard black holes do – and enticed me with conflict, controversy and friction. There is always something to write about if you’re a political journalist. In our society, there will always be another diplomatic skeleton in the closet to uncover.

But I am starting to see that these skeletons produce very few results in the long term. Political journalism is not impacting enough how people vote or how they interpret the facts. Instead of just shedding light on corruption and falsifications to change the standard, we are also adding fuel to a rapidly spreading fire. The deceit thrives while the stories that need to be shared with the world die out amidst the flames.

For example, President Trump got an advertising platform he didn’t expect, and journalists around the world provided it to him for free. We spent our time showcasing to the American people why he should not have been an esteemed candidate for the 2016 presidential election. Yet, he was elected regardless.

As a community of journalists, we have to self-evaluate what the goal is when we are reporting. Is our intent solely to educate the nation on the turmoils of America politics? Or are we getting excited by the notion that it will elicit clicks from our audiences?

I can’t criticize. I understand why politics fascinate journalists and why we are inspired by it.

During the 2016 primaries, all of the presidential candidates came through my home state first. You name them, we had them in Iowa. I drove to see five of them: Ted Cruz, Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders, Ben Carson and President Donald Trump.

I asked Sanders a question while he stood under a disco ball. I got into Cruz’s press conference and took pictures of him from two feet away while he was speaking to a veteran. I snuck in through a press door while hundreds of people waited outside for Clinton at a high-school. I listened to Carson talk for an hour about Ben Franklin and the forefathers of our country.

I was also at Trump’s rally when he said he “could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody” and not lose any voters.

Those words should have shook me to my core. Instead, I internalized the joy that I was a firsthand witness of the quote. I grinned to myself thinking, “I caught him, I did it. I can be an actual journalist now..”

I was beyond exhilarated on the way home. I curled up in the backseat with my computer in hand, churning out an article as quickly as I could type. Until midnight after each of these rallies, my editor in Connecticut, for Youth Journalism International, sat up with me and edited so that we could push articles the next day.

These moments felt more real to me than the article I wrote on the Gulf of Mexico oil spill or my essays on a 2017 tax bill that allows drilling for oil in an Alaskan Wildlife Refuge. Yet, these are the issues that matter to me. These are the problems that get very little coverage but they will have the most significant effects on human life for generations to come.

When I tell people why I have striven to be a journalist since I was nine, I don’t tell them about following around presidential candidates. I tell them that I dream of being a foreign correspondent, that I want to tell the stories of people that don’t have the platform or the voice to do so themselves. I want to travel and write about countries like Venezuela that are genuinely enduring hardships.

Yet, I continue to be drawn into the black hole of politics. I, like many reporters, get excited by the contention of polarized groups. I crave the drama which never ceases to erupt.

Political journalism has had it’s high-points. Bob Woodward has been my idol since I read about his reporting on the Watergate scandal. David Broder, a former columnist at the Washington Post, analyzed several political campaigns and was considered one of the most respected journalists of his time. In 2016, David Fahrenthold at the Washington Post unearthed the details about Trump’s uncharitable charity.

Regardless of this, I think the focus of journalism has changed. We are starting to morph into an industry fascinated by the President’s every move. I believe that, because of this, we have lost sight of the issues that lay at the forefront of our world.

International trade, unbalanced weaponry proportions by country, the future of agriculture, natural resources and the two billion people without an access point to debit accounts are only a few examples of these issues, according to the World Economic Forum. Personally, I know very little about these things because their headlines are not at the top of my news feed. Yet, these topics could all factor heavily into the next era.

I am not advocating for political journalists to give up their goal, which holds its weight in our modern world. I am not asking that we step aside. Political journalism plays a pivotal role in how the government runs and what conflicts citizens nationwide can get access to. I am only hoping that we, as a journalism community, re-evaluate what is truly impacting this generation and the many generations to come.