He said a couple of things that would have brought me to my feet, like this:
This election reminds us of something that has too often been ignored: That Washington matters. That government matters. Most of all, that who wins the White House matters. As we have seen over the past eight years, the choice of a president affects the way America projects its power around the world and how the world sees us. It affects who gets health care and at what price. It affects who gets taxed and at what rates. It affects the distribution of wealth in a society where income inequality continues to grow. It affects how we educate children and how we care for older Americans. It affects what this nation does to combat global climate change and therefore the world your children and your grandchildren will inherit.
That's exactly the kind of understanding that leads to substantive political reporting and, ideally, a better informed and more thoughtful electorate. Balz also said this:
Good political reporting devotes as much energy and curiosity to plumbing the state of the country, the aspirations of all Americans, the clash of ideas and the changes that may be realigning the nation’s political power structure, as it does to what candidates say or do on any given day.
That's about context, which lends meaning to the news of the day. Amen.
Here, though, is where Balz lost my sympathy:
My first concern is that we talk more and more about less and less. We seize on trivial developments rather than big ideas. We obsess over process and but not over policy. We over-cover a snide remark by David Geffen about the Clintons and under-cover a major speech. We spend too much time speculating about the future and not enough examining and understanding the present and the past. We write for one another and talk too much to one another. In other words, we are in danger of reducing to an insider’s game the most important set of decisions people are making about the future of our country.
Note the disconnect in this relatively short speech between what Balz says is important (see his first passage) and what he says political journalists
My advice to Dan, and all the other people currently covering politics but unhappy with the state of political coverage, is: START DOING IT RIGHT.
Balz's lamentation implies a feeling of helplessness, but all it would take for political coverage to improve in this country is for political reporters and their editors to stop complaining about how trivial much of their work is and do the other kind of work instead. Stop talking about how political journalism needs to be better, and make it better. If the Washington Post can't do it, who can?
In fairness, the Post's political coverage is about as extensive as one could hope to find, and although it delves deeply into the inside-baseball, blow-by-blow aspects of electoral politics, it also spends a lot of time on substance, issues, fact-checking and the other elements that make elections historic decisions and not cultural side shows. If everybody covered politics as thoroughly as The Washington Post, Dan Balz wouldn't have to complain.
But every election cycle we watch journalists wring their hands over how shallow, horse-racey and misguided election coverage is, when they're the very people who produce it. It's like going to a restaurant and having the chef complain about how bad the food is there.
Hey, chef, make better food!