JOURNALIST Q&A: Bryan Keefer

As the nation's foremost press watchdog, the Columbia Journalism Review has always kept a close eye on political journalists. But this year, CJR has broken out of the bi-monthly cycle with real-time analysis on its website, The Campaign Desk. Here, editor Bryan Keefer talks to PRWeek about the site.

As the nation's foremost press watchdog, the Columbia Journalism Review has always kept a close eye on political journalists. But this year, CJR has broken out of the bi-monthly cycle with real-time analysis on its website, The Campaign Desk. Here, editor Bryan Keefer talks to PRWeek about the site.

PRWeek: How would you grade overall election coverage so far? Bryan Keefer: I'd give it about a C. The media loves a horse race, and the wild Democratic primary so far has given them plenty of action to follow. It's the triumph of style over substance - stories about candidates' wives or alleged cosmetic surgery are much more fun to write about than, say, trade policy. Lost in all of that is the fact that the candidates are competing for executive office, not American Idol. PRWeek: The Campaign Desk has been tough on the media so far, getting on political scribes for everything from relying on clichés to lax reporting. Have there been any coverage high points? Keefer: The media managed to mostly stay away from the Kerry non-scandal and has been unusually aggressive in pursuing details of Bush's National Guard service, both signs that things may be changing for the better. It remains to be seen if that carries into the general election. PRWeek: What about a low point? Keefer: The infamous Dean "scream." The news channels played it nearly 700 times in the days afterward, which even they (or most of them) admitted was excessive. On top of it, Dean was actually shouting to be heard over the crowd in the room with him and responding to them shouting at him. Diane Sawyer did a piece on this afterward - to her credit - but the damage was done. Other low points include an ABC News segment suggesting Dean had knowingly submitted an affidavit on behalf of a domestic abuser (ABC never provided evidence Dean actually knew), rumor-mongering about Kerry getting Botox injections, and Tom Brokaw's hilarious slip of the tongue in asking Al Sharpton during a debate about the "great war going on in the world between the West and the Nation of Islam." PRWeek: This will be the first presidential election in which blogs will play a prominent role in the news. Does The Campaign Desk treat blogs differently than traditional media? Keefer: When blogs step into the territory of traditional media - doing actual reporting, or things like releasing exit poll data early - we treat them as we treat the traditional press, picking out mistakes and errors, and complimenting good reporting. Otherwise, we treat them as members of the opinion media, which is really what most of them are. PRWeek: Are blogs having much effect on the news? Keefer: Definitely. They serve as an echo chamber to amplify the best (and worst) of media coverage. They also seemed to have opened a dialogue about the failures of the media. And for better or worse, journalists seem to be paying attention. ------ Name: Bryan Keefer Publication: Columbia Journalism Review's Campaign Desk Title: Assistant managing editor Preferred contact information: cjrtips@jrn.columbia.edu Website: campaigndesk.com

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