Newspapers are facing cutbacks and even bankruptcies but, if students at Colby are any indication, interest in the work of journalists remains high. This semester four reporters from major national outlets drew hundreds of students seeking a behind-the-scenes look at journalists’ craft and the things they cover.
Two focused on the hottest topic on campus this semester: the election.
Post-election talks by Tom Edsall, political editor of The Huffington Post and a former Washington Post political reporter, and by Jeff Zeleny, a political correspondent for the New York Times, came to very different conclusions.
Edsall cited data showing the margin of victory among voters under 30. In 2000 Democrats won in this demographic by two points. In 2004 by nine points. This year, 34 points. “These are the people who are going to be starting in the electorate now, and they’re going to last and last and last and last and last and sort of push all these others out,” Edsall said.
Zeleny, who spent the campaign covering Obama, presented a different picture. “For all the Democrats out there,” he said, “if you think that this is an election that was sort of reshaping the political landscape, that Democrats are going to be a permanent majority, I wouldn’t spend too much time thinking about that, because that’s not the case—almost certainly not the case. It wasn’t with Republicans eight years ago, and it almost certainly isn’t the case now.”
The two also presented differing perspectives on media coverage of the campaign. Zeleny, who offered behind-the-scenes accounts from his seat at the back of Obama’s airplane and from venues across America, shunned the notion that the press favored Obama. “There has been a lot of commentary about how the media was in the tank for Senator Obama, how they all loved Senator Obama, how, you know, it was this cozy relationship,” he said. “Well, if that’s true, it was a long-distance affair, because there was very little interaction with reporters and the Obama campaign.”
Edsall’s perch was more from the outside, as a Huffington Post editor and as a professor at the Columbia Graduate School of Journalism. Though he said the press “did an okay job,” he continued: “There were some problems. I do think that the press was quite pro-Obama—explicitly so. Much more so and more assertively so than in past elections.”
Both lectures—and one by Phil Taubman, a retired New York Times editor who, like Edsall, came to Colby as part of the Knight Foundation grant for media literacy—are online as part of the Goldfarb Center podcast series. Also in that series is Anne Hull, the Washington Post reporter who won this year’s Elijah Parish Lovejoy Award for courageous journalism.