Posted by: Jeff | June 2, 2010

Political Science and Journalism

The Columbia Journalism Review posted an interesting piece analyzing the apparent dichotomy between political science and journalism.  It’s an interesting piece precisely because there exists a great disagreement between political scientists and journalists about whether such a schism does or should exist.

Aspiring journalists are taught to explain the facts of a story – the who, what, when, where.  Political scientists aren’t really interested in those things though – they’re much more interested in the why and the how.  Why do political actors behave the way they do?  Are there structural parameters that conduce such behavior?  Are there institutional norms at play?  Is there an empirical model that can predict future behavior?

My background in political science notwithstanding, I tend to think that the most incisive and insightful journalists incorporate elements of policy and political science into their reporting.  Blogging is an especially accessible medium for this type of synthesis.  The immediate nature of the blogosphere means that there are literally dozens of commentators writing about a political event nearly immediately after it happens.  Rather than simply regurgitate the headlines, bloggers will often compete to construct analytical arguments and models that explain how the story has come to pass, and the potential outcomes that remain hidden in the future.  This is why blogging, like political science, is one part explanatory and one part predictive.  The best, and most interesting, bloggers are the ones who do both parts well.

With the decline of print journalism and the rise of alternative sources of news online, it’s worth asking whether this bodes well for the further integration of political science approaches in journalism.  I think it does.  However, the fact-checking abyss of the internet, where copy editors are few and far between, does raise the specter of another problem: that of intellectually-dishonest partisan hackery.  With the wealth of free and insightful analysis available, I’m still hopeful that the web will breed a more measured and analytical approach to news consumption.

For an excellent example of a political scientist/journalist/blogger who uses political events and stories as a jumping off point for cool, even-handed analysis of political problems and institutional structures, I recommend reading Jonathan Bernstein’s recent guest post at Ezra Klein’s blog (Ezra himself being a great example of the poli sci-journalism synthesis).

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