A senate candidate sits in front of the cameras in a boardroom that is quiet except for the sounds of people settling in. The greetings are quiet but friendly. There’s a printout of potential questions in front of the four journalists who seat themselves across from the politician. The cameramen are an unobtrusive presence and after a few minutes you would forget they were there as they went about their work. The equipment is not fault-proof - earlier conversations would have let on - but there is no panicked rush. It would seem all is taken care of.
A Democratic Senate candidate is here to give an interview to The Press of Atlantic City, which may or may not lead to the paper endorsing her campaign.
The concept is new to me, a Pakistani journalist observing the way the paper operates.
The interview begins. To an onlooker, it is not intimidating, but the journalists ask real and specific questions about issues that affect viewers. The conversation will be reported in the paper and is not a debate that will be aired live. The answers are taken by the journalists politely. This is not a politician they are trying to nail, but rather one who has come to endear herself to them.
The interview is clear, almost quiet as each word spoken by the candidate resonates across the room. She does not shout, and if she is agitated, it is well hidden. These journalists want to hear her answers and judge her candidacy on merit. They are not gunning for a controversial front-page story. There is prodding when her answers are not sufficient, but it is far from ugly.
Ugly is when a journalist either panders to the politician in an interview, or aggressively attacks them, each word spoken louder than the last until all you hear is noise. Ugly is when candidates attack each other personally and when they shout about change but cannot define it.
Television and papers back home heavily cover politics and political debates. Really, it’s all we talk about. But what’s missing is a discussion on specific policies on specific issues. Problem areas are easily identified, and they are numerous. But they are usually broad. Practical solutions are rarely offered.
How many times do we genuinely sit down with politicians and candidates for higher offices and listen to what their answers are? How many politicians in Pakistan can actually talk about exactly what policies they will implement and exactly what measures they will take to improve the situation? And can newspapers actually sit them down to talk about the finer points of policy when all the ratings-driven focus is on the sensational?
From what I understand, print journalism is growing increasingly localized in the U.S. to hold the interest of the people … to offer them something the internet and television cannot. It’s a way to survive. But it is also perhaps the best watchdog. By identifying all local issues and giving due attention to local politicians, the print media here is best able to pin down politicians and the government on issues that matter to people and at least demand that they deliver. There’s the trickle-down affect and there’s building from the grassroots. But either of the two is needed. Things are not perfect here and I’ve heard enough in just the few days I’ve been here to prove that. But there is a focus on the specific that demands answers and solutions. And it’s surely closer to working than what we have.