Jay Rosen interviewed Harris for PressThink and asked him, what's so revolutionary about this new Allbritton-financed adventure?
Jay Rosen: You guys said Allbritton was sold on your “non-traditional”
approach to news from political Washington. What traditions will you be breaking
with to produce it, and why would you depart from them?
John Harris: I have long puzzled over a phenomenon about many reporters, one that I am sure is true for me also. They tend to be more interesting in conversation than they are to read in the paper. I think one reason for that is that the typical newspaper story continues to be written with a kind of austere, voice-of-God detachment. This muffles personality, humor, accumulated insight—all the reasons reporters tend to be fun to talk to. When it’s appropriate—not in every story but in
many—we’ll try to loosen the style and in the process tell readers more about
what we know, what we think, and why we think it.
This is, excuse the language, fucking fantastic. In all the commentary and criticism and guessing about how to save the news in this new media world, so few people look at the actual journalism - the reporting, the writing, all of it. It's refreshing to see someone talking about changing the way we do things on a basic level.
As far as what Harris was talking about, I absolutely agree. The right calls the media out on its "liberal bias," so reporters and editors push even harder for objectivity (not to mention things like the Jayson Blair debacle, which some are still recovering from psychologically). As a result, most stories turn out so dry that even if they're about something really important - how contractors are wasting millions on unfinished projects in Iraq, for example - a reader doesn't get the sense of the importance. There's no outrage on behalf of the reporter, and for many that means there's no outrage for the reader. But being pissed about something like that is not, I think, bias. It's perfectly legitimate and, provided they have all the facts, there's no way someone could say it's biased.
Anyway, way to go Harris. I said it before: I hope this works.