The journalism school professor who doesn't trust reporters under 30.

Media criticism.
Dec. 11 2007 5:36 PM

Too Young To Write for Page One?

A journalism school professor's lame complaint.

The campaign beat can be child's play. Click image to expand.
The campaign beat can be child's play

"Since when does the Post assign 27-year-olds to write Page 1 presidential campaign pieces?" Boston University journalism professor Christopher B. Daly snitted yesterday in a blog item titled "The Worst Political Reporting of 2007."

Daly's target was Perry Bacon Jr., author of a Page OneWashington Post piece (Nov. 29) about the "Obama is a Muslim" rumors. Daly decries the rapid ascension that is Bacon's career as an example of "fast-tracking with a vengeance—a problem that I thought the Post had gotten past."

Advertisement

Is Daly right? Should we ban 27-year-olds from writing Page One pieces about presidential campaigns? What dues must be paid before a journalist is worthy of Page One campaign assignments? Should the gig be reserved for the graybeards, geezers, and fossils who carried David S. Broder's garment bags to the 1968 Republican National Convention?

Ripping Daly is a bit like shooting fish in a barrel. But what's wrong with shooting fish in a barrel? If a professor is stupid enough to gurgle like this about young reporters while splashing around in the tight confines of a tub, he deserves double-barrel treatment.

Daly seems to think Bacon is a political greenhorn, but he isn't. At Time magazine, his previous gig, Bacon profiled Obama in 2006. He wrote about the John Edwards campaign, profiled Nancy Pelosi, wrote about the defeated John Kerry, and interviewed Deval Patrick, Charles Rangel, and Chuck Hagel for the magazine's "10 Questions For" series. At the Post, which he joined in March, Bacon has at least 16 Page One credits about the 2008 campaign to his name—nine solo and seven as joint bylines. On the inside pages, you can find about 30 more Bacon bylines on political stories.

But documenting Bacon's reportorial experience only plays into Daly's game. Despite what some political reporters and the odd professor might tell you, a journalist needn't carry a Mensa card and belong to the Gridiron Club in order to write intelligently about presidential campaigns for Page One. The national political beat, while glamorous, is no more difficult to cover than finance, city hall, or war. The only people who think political reporters must be on a first-name basis with every past and present county party chairman in Wisconsin before writing about national politics are the nutmeats who study such encyclopedias in their leisure time.

The prejudice against young political reporters probably has more to do with the inexplicably high status accorded campaign reporters inside newspapers than it does with the actual skills the job demands. Too many journalists think of the campaign trail as the most prestigious beat, and they wig out when somebody who hasn't spent two decades as a journeyman lands a seat on the campaign bus.

While we're on the subject, Daly isn't the only one who considers Bacon's piece the "worst political reporting of 2007." In an earlier piece in the Columbia Journalism Review, Paul McLeary comes to a similar conclusion. The Washington Post's own ombudsman criticizes Bacon's approach to the "Obama is a Muslim" rumors.

I don't think the Bacon story is perfect, but I give him and the Post credit for grappling with the rumor—one that shows no sign of dying—that others covering the campaign have been too timid to touch.

*******

More credit where credit is due:From the Iowa hustings,Slate's own John Dickerson grabbed the latest Obama rumor by the tail and shook hard ("Dirty Obama E-Mail," Nov. 7). Who else deserves credit for grappling with this important story? Send e-mail to slate.pressbox@gmail.com. (E-mail may be quoted by name in "The Fray," Slate's readers' forum, in a future article, or elsewhere unless the writer stipulates otherwise. Permanent disclosure: Slate is owned by the Washington Post Co.)

TODAY IN SLATE

Jurisprudence

Scalia’s Liberal Streak

The conservative justice’s most brilliant—and surprisingly progressive—moments on the bench.

Colorado Is Ground Zero for the Fight Over Female Voters

There’s a Way to Keep Ex-Cons Out of Prison That Pays for Itself. Why Don’t More States Use It?

The NFL Explains How It Sees “the Role of the Female”

The Music Industry Is Ignoring Some of the Best Black Women Singing R&B

Culturebox

Theo’s Joint and Vanessa’s Whiskey

No sitcom did the “Very Special Episode” as well as The Cosby Show.

Television

The Other Huxtable Effect

Thirty years ago, The Cosby Show gave us one of TV’s great feminists.

Cliff Huxtable Explains the World: Five Lessons From TV’s Greatest Dad

Why Television Needs a New Cosby Show Right Now

  News & Politics
Weigel
Sept. 18 2014 8:20 PM A Clever Attempt at Explaining Away a Vote Against the Farm Bill
  Business
Moneybox
Sept. 18 2014 6:02 PM A Chinese Company Just Announced the Biggest IPO in U.S. History
  Life
The Slate Quiz
Sept. 18 2014 11:44 PM Play the Slate News Quiz With Jeopardy! superchampion Ken Jennings.
  Double X
Doublex
Sept. 18 2014 8:07 PM Crying Rape False rape accusations exist, and they are a serious problem.
  Slate Plus
Behind the Scenes
Sept. 18 2014 1:23 PM “It’s Not Every Day That You Can Beat the World Champion” An exclusive interview with chess grandmaster Fabiano Caruana.
  Arts
Brow Beat
Sept. 18 2014 4:33 PM The Top 5 Dadsplaining Moments From The Cosby Show
  Technology
Future Tense
Sept. 18 2014 6:48 PM By 2100 the World's Population Could Be 11 Billion
  Health & Science
Science
Sept. 18 2014 3:35 PM Do People Still Die of Rabies? And how do you know if an animal is rabid?
  Sports
Sports Nut
Sept. 18 2014 11:42 AM Grandmaster Clash One of the most amazing feats in chess history just happened, and no one noticed.