Explore Harvard's Nieman network Nieman Fellowships Nieman Lab Nieman Reports Nieman Storyboard

'Don’t worry about seeming too adversarial'

DISCUSSIONS | May 22, 2006

Bill German

1950 Nieman fellow; Editor Emeritus, San Francisco Chronicle.

1.     The press should not worry about seeming too adversarial. Everyone out there already has a mindset about this.

2.     My fearless advice for 2006 political coverage is that we should pay as much attention as possible to the voters. Do all we can to examine what they think and to explain why they think it. Reporters should tirelessly seek out the electorate's perception and reaction to the candidates and to the issues. This should apply on both national and local levels.

It won't be easy. Reporters will need to be intrepid and to scratch with their fingernails. They will need to spot and to corner people who speak up at public sessions. They will need to seek out unholy help from trusted pollsters. They will need to shun appealing lists of available, quotable political science professors. They will need to report the truth and who-knows-what else.

Such a tight focus on the voters would naturally include explanation – why and how shifting public attitudes came to be. Chicanery, confusion, perhaps even logic... Watchdog stuff? 

Hopefully, this approach to political coverage would need a few apologetic caveats (analysis, opinion, etc.). Honest explanatory journalism is rarely out of bounds. But if it turns out that honest explanation can only be presented through the filter of a fair-minded reporter, then editors should never hesitate to grant reporters such license – with caveats, as a last resort.

This item is one of several responses to a survey of former Nieman fellows. Click here to see the main story.

The NiemanWatchdog.org website is no longer being updated. Watchdog stories have a new home in Nieman Reports.