If reporters showed more respect for democratic institutions (see yesterday’s post), they might also think about “balance” in a different way. Journalistic “balance” usually means quoting an equal number of people on both sides of an issue–an approach that’s sometimes mindless or even misleading. But if reporters and editors tried to respect public institutions, they might ask instead:
Are we providing the right balance between campaign news and other news about issues and government? After all, campaigns do not necessarily affect many parts of the government, let alone other public institutions–nor are they the only opportunities for citizens to influence the system. What about (for example) the federal administrative agencies, which are enormously powerful, largely immune to changes in party control, and yet subject to citizens’ influence?
Do we balance scandalous news and news about the day-to-day work of public institutions? Or do we only tell the public about certain federal and state agencies, political leaders, and major nonprofits when they are accused of misbehavior?
Do we offer the right balance between news about powerful leaders and news about ordinary Americans who address public problems?
Do we give an accurate impression of the balance of power among the branches of government; among local, state, and federal governments; between the public and the private sectors; and between the United States and global institutions? Or do we focus unduly on the US presidency, partly because it is glamorous and easy to cover?