Imagining Non-Partisan News
Few people could have viewed the political behaviors on display over Presidents' Day weekend, immediately following Supreme Court Justice Scalia’s death, without some degree of dismay. News producers used a republican presidential debate to amplify a controversy over President Obama's stated intention to nominate a replacement to the court. By Monday morning, headlines trumpeted an epic political battle between those "for" or "against" a timely nomination, while a family grieved.
But let's imagine what might foster a more thoughtful and constructive context for considering significant processes such as a Supreme Court nomination in our democracy.
Imagine a major American newspaper - with global reach - that's non-partisan. The paper signs its editorials, so that readers know who holds which opinion. The paper partners with its growing community in meeting one of the most difficult challenges of a democracy: effective self-governance.
This non-partisan "major paper" provides ballast to daily discourse, manages to thrive amidst the frightful pressures of 24/7 news, and enables our news and information to include more of these attributes:
1. Logic and accuracy News that's clear and reasonable. Good stories of course appeal to the heart; but when politically-oriented news plays to emotions such as fear, indignation, or anger, our democracy suffers. (Last week we saw front pages overtaken by conjecture about what might occur.)
2. Complexity Solving problems in a diverse society of 323,000,000 people, requires comprehension of interrelated factors. What's important in our democracy is not just "issues" (i.e. points of debate) but collaboration and community-building. A reductionist approach to news inhibits our understanding and limits our potential to be "part of the solution."
3. Relevance to the next generation Daily reporting is complemented by a 'long view' of what will matter in 10 or 15 years. Today's high school and college graduates would gain awareness of such subjects as trends in employment; opportunities arising from our transition to clean energy; new approaches to organizing communities; and innovation in education, health, food production, housing, and transportation.
4. Independent thought Resistance to dominant paradigms. A core discipline of journalism is to question all assumptions - daily. News writing that is primarily oriented to partisanship tends to reinforce mindsets and habits of thought, and can easily descend into mannerisms and stereotype.
5. Flexibility and Agility News that helps us understand how society is changing while enriching our perspectives on the past. The templates for daily news will be adjusted as needs change, so that readers can participate meaningfully in processes of creative transformation. Ecology, environment, clean energy, and sustainable living together comprise a vast area of news and vital information that exceeds conventional structures of 'beat journalism.'
Our non-partisan "major paper" could base its editorial policy on two fundamental principles: 1) a strength of our 2-party system is that it respects and upholds the dissenting voice; and 2) the work of legislation and governance is accomplished primarily through debate and compromise.
The paper's mission could be to provide readers with the daily information required to renew and sustain democracy. Its vision: to be a national leader in journalism, recognized as a newspaper of record for its city and region, for educators and civic leaders, and for the general citizenry.
Attuned to the information needs of responsible citizens, our non-partisan newspaper would be geared not only to an existing readership but to a growing community of young people, for whom the question "how then shall we live" is essential. Imagine.
Susan Haig is Founder & Creative Director of CivicStory.org.