An all-star panel of D.C. media elite dissected the pace and direction of news and media in front of a group of about 40 students last night in Copley Formal Lounge.

As the political field evolves, so do the news and media industries according to first-hand accounts from panelists including Politico’s chief White House correspondent Mike Allen, FOX News chief Washington correspondent Jim Angle, recent Director of Communications at the Democratic National Committee Karen Finney and former Deputy Assistant to President George W. Bush for Communications Scott Sforza.

Students pursuing a Masters of Professional Studies in Journalism, and visiting students from the Semester in Washington Program also attended the event moderated by Professor Bradley A. Blakeman, who served as Deputy Assistant to the President for Appointments and Scheduling, Vetting and Research, Correspondence and Surrogate Scheduling under President George W. Bush.

All four commentators agreed that the new role of journalism is to interpret news, rather than tell it. The conversation, according to them, is not about the role of politics in journalism anymore, but about the role of journalism in politics.

“The White House communications staff are now the content creators,” Allen said. “Now the president announces something, one side will do a ‘pre-bundle’ to it, the other side will respond, and all of this will be available to you in real time. The morning paper is almost a drama critic ruling who’s won in this great tussle.”

Allen and Sforza, who worked as an insider in the White House communications department, both spoke about the number of innovations put in place after the conclusion of the Obama campaign to control

would see the president first, but now those outlets have been shut down in deference to White House television. According to the pair, the forced yield to White House-controlled information through press releases and the White House’s own news website has changed the pace and style of political journalism.

The panelists recalled the Reagan years, when the nightly news on the three big networks — ABC, NBC and CBS — would constitute a person’s daily dose of news.

Now, there are hundreds of networks, with five national ones in the official White House press corps. Each has as equal access to the latest news as does any citizen who utilizes the White House produced media.

“Not only is there video and audio, but viewers can click on just what the president said about jobs or about the war,” said Allen. “People can drag that and routinely make news on their Twitter feed.”

The panelists agreed that everybody is trying to find the craftiest ways to get audiences to come to them.

“The key is to find a unique way to get your message out,” said Sforza. “That’s going to take outside-of-the-box, creative thinking.”

Panelists also touched on how to cover controversial topics without misconstruing facts, while still serving as public informers.

“We really act as aggregators of news,” said Finney, one of D.C.’s leading democratic strategists. “The real power of the next generation is that you decide what is news. You don’t have to read the front page if there isn’t something that you’re interested — you can go online and read what you want to know about. The news organizations don’t decide your news for you anymore.”

Each panelist seemed enraptured by the power of electronic media to determine popularity, but even more so by the effect it could play on the 2012 election. Every panelist was eager to see how candidates will try to penetrate social networking and figure out who can top the other online.

The panelists predicted that this campaign season will feature the traditional slipups, but they will be watching intently to see how politicians, news organizations and voters deal with this new technology.

“The Obama camp was rightly credited of being at the forefront of using technology — they were at the cutting edge — and they didn’t tweet,” Allen said. “The pace of change is not slow, so that tells you by [the] next campaign, there is going to be some new media we can’t even imagine.”

With the speed of communication comes an even greater obligation for accuracy. The panelists reiterated that once a piece of news has gone out, it is out there and tends to spread quickly through the digital world.

But Allen pointed out at least one element of political reporting has stayed the same:

“Half of news is what’s happening — what they’re saying — and the other half is peeling back the curtain to what it means and what it can do for the public.”

Have a reaction to this article? Write a letter to the editor.

Leave a Reply

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