As a self confessed media junky the opportunity to chair a media panel comprising of three D.C high flying journalists had to be mine. I pushed forward to be involved even before knowing who would take the hot seat. I was giddy with excitement and anticipation at who would face the challenge of the class of 2012 and our fearless questioning.
Crunch time and I had never been so nervous in my 21years, despite trying to act nonchalant to my peers, claiming that my role would be minor, I was repeating over and again in my head the words given to us earlier in the week from acclaimed U.S. political analyst Mark Shields. ‘The need to open up and bring people in is crucial’. Sure he said this in regards to Obama’s re-election campaign but I felt the words were adaptable to my own, equally as challenging task, of acting moderator to 3 feisty reporters whilst encouraging healthy and active debate. Acting moderator is not an easy task to undertake. It often entails cutting not only your esteemed guests short but the natural flow of debate in order to gain as much information as possible on all areas of interest. And with the likes of Jonathan Weisman, a congressional reporter from the New York Times on the panel, I was not relishing this element of the job. I was also feeling conscious that Nell Henderson, Economics Editor, Wall Street Journal and Craig Gordon, Chief Deputy Managing Editor of Politico were both fiery characters and would bite at any accusations or probing questions thrown at them despite my Irish charm.
Needless to say this was true. Fantastic questions from the floor on the power of News Corporation and the Leveson Inquiry got the panel pushing forward the idea that good journalism is vital. Good in terms of honest, responsible and interesting, offering the reader a chance to take in all the facts and make an informed decision. I stood on the stage totally engrossed in discussion on values I feel are vital to ensure that good quality journalism doesn’t become a distant memory. Drawing the line between my job as moderator and captivated listener was difficult as I had to cut discussion on topics I felt strongly about to ensure that each panel and class member got to voice their opinion on all elements of the media.
On the topic of media power on influencing election outcomes, the panel and class had conflicting views as just too how effective this was. The panel, naturally claiming that the only power they have is to report fact whereas the class claiming the media has a responsibility to create a sense of excitement around elections and encourage citizens to hit the polls. Weisman’s reaction to this was perhaps my favorite and most dreaded of the evening. He spoke passionately and at length about how the responsibility to get the public to the polls lay with both Obama and Romney this year, and his job was purely to comment on how they are or not doing this effectively. It killed me to cut him off on such an impassioned speech that reflected my exact feelings on both political and journalistic responsibility. (However I was secretly pleased with how I conducted myself at this point and felt perhaps a little too powerful in the position I had been given.)
One point made by the panel has stuck with me and shaped how I hope to approach the rest of the program. Craig Gordon stated that it was the media’s role to ‘set the narrative’, tell the story, and ensure the public is aware of the sequence of events in order to act accordingly. I couldn’t agree with this more in the journalistic sense but this is not my role as a member of WIP 2012. We are here to make the changes, debate the big issues and challenge the things that divide us as a group and a wider society. Not simply to retell the story of the past, but to create a new story and have it retold.