How to be a political journalist in America
This year is my 30th year as a journalist, my 20th as an author of books about journalism, and my 10th or so year as a professor of its history. Due to this longevity if nothing else—together with the fact that I spend a lot of my time with young people who aspire to be journalists in the future—I find myself frequently asked if I can provide any rules that journalists should live by, so as to help those entering the field from making unnecessary or easily predictable mistakes.
To spare myself some time, and to share my hard-earned wisdom with those whom I will never get a chance to counsel, I’ve come up with the following list of the top 20 rules that no aspiring American mainstream political journalist should ever forget. I should add that nothing on this list should be construed as relating to any particular candidate, or the coverage he or she has received in the 2012 presidential election. And I should further add that if my cynicism seems at times too biting, then chalk it up to 30 years trying to persuade the mainstream media not to give unwarranted “equal weight” to whatever conservatives demand.
Rules for covering a political campaign
How to be a successful American mainstream political reporter—the big ones never to be forgotten
What to remember when covering a major political event, such as a debate
General rules for survival regarding attacks
Underlying ideological assumptions about politics and economics are not to be questioned
And finally, keep this last rule in mind at all times as it must underlie all others: “The system works.” Question the efficacy of that one, and you might as well make your parents happy and go to law school. Good luck, everybody.
This article was published by the Center for American Progress.
Eric Alterman is a Senior Fellow at the Center for American Progress and a Distinguished Professor of English at Brooklyn College and the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism. He is also a columnist for The Nation, Moment, and The Daily Beast. His newest book is Kabuki Democracy: The System vs. Barack Obama.