Politics and our newspapers: A reply to Jeremy Gordin

Roy Isacowitz says, properly defined, political reporting is usually dull and often un-interesting to readers

By all accounts, Jeremy Gordin ("In defence of political reporting (and political reporters,)" PoliticsWeb, October 2) is doing a fine job at the Daily Sun. I understand that it is difficult, these days, to find a sports piece or even a weather report in that worthy rag that doesn't have at least one mention of a tokolosh.

Unfortunately, Jeremy's rich yeshiva background tends to make him a tad argumentative at times and prone to a certain, Talmudic style of logic that can, in the hands of a talmid chacham, turn a sow's ear into a silk purse -or at least into a seemingly convincing argument that, actually, makes little sense.

There is no doubt that the old-time worthies that Jeremy mentions (Ken Owens, Allister Sparks, Tony Heard etc.) were fine journalists who went out on a very precarious limb in the 60s, 70s and 80s. It's probably true to say that they played a role in the downfall of apartheid, though the extent of their contribution is debatable. Jeremy and I could polish off many fine bottles of cognac arguing that very point.

The problem is that they all, without exception, practiced the very political journalism that the bigwigs at Times Media want to spike - though the tone of the debate may well have plummeted in recent years. My memory is not what it was, but I'm pretty sure that Allister Sparks never wrote about shit buckets and teachers obsessed with teenage sex. Ditto Patrick Lawrence, John Kane-Berman et al. They lived in a different universe to that of the Daily Sun.

Political journalists have always covered the thinking and activities of politicians - that's why they're called political journalists. The material with which they work is seldom illuminating, occasionally titillating, but mainly boring. Politicians are not very interesting people and their concerns are not those of the guy shitting into a bucket. Which means that the more political coverage there is in a newspaper, the less interesting it is to most readers.

Andrew Bonamour and Kuseni Dlamini seem to be on the right track in wanting to reduce the amount of political goo in their newspapers. I haven't been following the debate, but I wouldn't be surprised if their intention is to move their papers closer to the model of none other than Jeremy Gordin and his colleagues at the Daily Sun.

So, I really don't understand who Jeremy is arguing against - or for. Time Media wants to emulate the Daily Sun; I would have expected Jeremy to take that as a compliment. After all, he would be the first to acknowledge, as he did in his article, that his papers don't do politics in the traditional way. He should be flattered that the bean counters are following his lead.

If Jeremy wants to redefine political journalism, that's what he should have said. I doubt that there are many newspaper people, anywhere in the world, who would agree with the incomparable Deon du Plessis that political journalism should be about "shit running down your street," though the enlightened among them would probably agree that covering "destroyed dreams ... broken promises ... incompetence, greed and contempt" is a very necessary part of modern journalism. It just hasn't been defined as political journalism in the past.

Jeremy is entitled to want to change or expand the definition of political journalism. It may even be the right thing to do. But he shouldn't do it by taking gratuitous swipes at people who still hew to the traditional definition - and who themselves seem to find it problematic.

And, if Bonamour and Dlamini are in fact rubbishing the work done by their own newspapers and their own political journalists, shouldn't we see that as refreshing honesty. It's very seldom that we get a mea culpa from a newspaper proprietor - or from a politician, for that matter. Personally, I find it encouraging.

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