Washington Post columnist Chris Cillizza recently told Post readers that his message to Post reporters is that the best way to combat President Trump’s allegations that the media is the enemy is “to simply put our heads down and do our jobs. We aren’t the story. The story is the story.” Cillizza delivered his get-to-work-reporting advice to fellow Post journalists in his Post column, written when not making appearances on MSNBC television, doing podcasts, or making speeches.
Today Washington Post columnist Margaret Sullivan joined the chorus with a column in the Style section headlined “Score 1 for reporting and 0 for punditry.” Her column’s opening: “Call it the revenge of the reporters over the pundits.” The Post columnist went on to say, “There’s room, of course, for incisive commentary as well as just-the-facts reporting. But if we had to choose between the two, it would be an easy call.”
Shouldn’t all this advice on how the Post can do better journalism be in a memo to Washington Post executive editor Marty Baron rather than telling Post readers how the Post could improve by doing less punditry and more reporting?
We recently looked through a week of our paper and were surprised to count more than 70 columns being written by Post staffers and that doesn’t count the many guest columns.
Granted, some of our columns aren’t punditry so much as informational wrap-ups on things like federal workers or traffic. Eight are sports columns—those probably shouldn’t count as punditry. Style has another seven columnists. The rest of the columns run in Metro, Business, and the A section. That seems like a lot of punditry.
Some of the punditry appears on the Post’s editorial page and op-ed page, supervised by editorial page editor Fred Hiatt, and we know you two operate independently of one another, but for the reader it must seem as if the Post turns an awful lot of its reporters into columnists.
The problem with columnists, as you know, is that unlike reporters who publish when they have something to report, a columnist often sits at the computer and thinks, “Damn, I have a column due tomorrow. What incisive commentary can I come up with that might create some talk?”
Rather than having so many Post journalists dreaming up columns, and in effect creating what President Trump might call fake news, why not put some of us back in the ranks where we can do good reporting and good journalism?
Or should we just write more columns about why we need more reporting and less punditry?
Chris and Margaret