Postmodern journalism is hard to define

Postmodern journalism is hard to define.
William Powers of the National Journal tries in an article on campaign coverage. He says the media “appear clueless and insecure, unable to decide what matters most, or should matter, about any given candidate” and goes on to identify the conflict.

The problem is that campaign journalism is at once seriously old-fashioned and wildly postmodern. At the old-fashioned end, you’ve got a bunch of reporters moving around with the candidates themselves, breathing the bottled air of the campaign terrarium, and trying to convey this world in their reports. Watch Candidate X as he bounds into the requisite greasy spoon, shakes the requisite hands, and makes the requisite small talk about the requisite big issues. This is American politics at the micro or “retail” level, and You Are There.

At the other, postmodern extreme is a different kind of journalism entirely: the dark inside knowledge that all top-flight political reporters possess about how presidential campaigns really work. Based largely on the media’s running conversation with pollsters, consultants, campaign managers, and other hardened political pros, this macro-level strategic coverage has effectively opened up the smoke-filled rooms of old and let the rest of us see what goes on in there.

Mr. Powers concludes that there’s nothing particularly wrong with either style and that they somewhat complement each other. Still, he says, something is missing in political reporting:
“The sale” isn’t happening in the diner, or on the phone with pollsters — it’s happening in the great American gut. How about some more coverage of that?
I admire anybody who tries to take on the issue of Postmodernism in daily life, and there is certainly Postmodern conflict in the two styles of reporting of which Mr. Powers speaks. Postmodernism dismantles institutionalism by shoving the curtain aside to reveal the whizzing and whirling bells and whistles that — in the name of protected knowledge — grant the user élite status. In that sense, Mr. Powers is absolutely correct in defining Postmodern journalism. However, I’d offer that — especially in the political field — it goes far beyond that, to the American gut of which he writes. For Postmodern journalism is beyond the reach of those whose degrees grant them access to the powerful. It’s being practiced daily in the conversations of like-minded tribesmen and women across a network no one could have imagined just a few years ago.

These are the people who’ve experienced the fruit of blue smoke and mirrors. There is no political promise anywhere that can make up for that. The wellspring of Postmodern energy is inexhaustible, because it flows from the people themselves. Technology is opening the eyes of humankind, and they’ll never shut them again.

Professional journalism can’t help but wear the clothing of the culture, and Mr. Powers has done the industry a service in pointing that out. Ultimately, though, the essence of Postmodern journalism isn’t just “in” the American gut; it IS the American gut.

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