CNBC's John Harwood Discusses Changing Political Media Landscape

Apr 14, 2012

CNBC Washington Correspondent John Harwood spoke at the University of Kentucky’s Memorial Hall this week for the 35th Annual Joe Creason Lecture.  The topic of the evening was political journalism or more specifically, how the nature of journalism has changed, due to shifts in politics and the news business itself.

Harwood began by talking about the financial pressures that the traditional news media faces.  He attributes this to a “erosion” of the “monopoly” that newspapers, magazines, and broadcast networks had on the delivery of information.

“We first thought that television was going to destroy newspapers, that cable was going to destroy broadcast, and that computers and mobile devices were going to destroy cable, Harwood  said.   “All of that’s happening and the profusion… of media outlets has made it very very difficult for media organizations to adapt their business models so they can make money.” 

Harwood argues that the partisan shift of news networks, such as MSNBC and Fox News, is due to the pressure of networks to find new viewers, and a recognition of the fact that people are seeking like-minded media.  To Harwood, this has contributed to the decline of analytical journalism (he admits that CNN, which has tried to remain objective, is suffering in the ratings). 

Harwood notes another side effect of these financial pressures is the emphasis on getting content out quickly.  While accuracy is still important, he says that current media is more likely to publish a story before it has had time to “cook.”  

Harwood adds that this is not limited to newspapers and broadcast media, describing its effect on campaign journalists.  “Newsweek Magazine had a tradition where they would put reporters behind the scenes with candidates and write a book the next year, with the understanding that all the stuff they saw couldn’t be reported until afterwards.”  Harwood states that “now they are publishing e-books…. in the middle of the campaign.”   

Despite these misgivings, Harwood noted that there were encouraging signs.  People have not lost their thirst for information, and thanks to the emergence of new media, more sources are available than ever.              

In addition to the state of the media, Harwood also responded to various audience topics, ranging from his opinions of the Daily Show and Colbert Report, to the role of race and religion in the 2012 race, to Rick Perry’s “oops" moment in the Republican primary debate; in which Harwood was the moderator. 

This was the 35th Joe Creason lecture.    The series, hosted by UK’s School of Journalism and Telecommunications, is named for legendary reporter Joe Creason, who wrote for the Courier-Journal and Courier-Journal Magazine.  Previous speakers have included Clarence Page of the Chicago Tribune, and Bob Edwards of NPR.