Breaking News on Politics

A barrage of breaking news can be overwhelming. With so many legitimate and dubious sources online, it’s important to develop a strategy for staying informed.

Online news aggregators can help. These sites use algorithms to find articles from a wide range of sources and can be customized by topic. They can also be helpful for identifying bias in the original news source.

The Pulitzer Prizes

Unlike many other prize categories, Pulitzers aren’t given in a single category. Instead, they’re handed out in a range of different fields. And they reflect the diversity of journalism, with some winners focusing on local news and others taking on international or cultural subjects.

The 2022 awards ceremony largely focused on breaking news, with work around the war in Ukraine snagging multiple prizes. The AP won the public service award for its work covering Russian bombing of the Ukrainian city of Mariupol, which led to thousands of civilian deaths. And the staff of Politico won for a package that included the leak of Justice Samuel Alito’s draft opinion on abortion, which was published after the Dobbs decision.

Other winners included the New York Times’s Eli Saslow for what the Pulitzers described as “evocative individual narratives about people struggling with the pandemic, homelessness, addiction and inequality in the United States.” And the AP’s photo team of Bilal Hussein, Karim Kadim, Brennan Linsley, Jim MacMillan, Samir Mizban and Mohammed Uraibi won for their stunning images of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

This year, the Pulitzers added a new prize for explanatory reporting and awarded the first to a group of journalists from Quanta Magazine — including Natalie Wolchover — for a piece that detailed the complex engineering efforts needed to build the James Webb Space Telescope, which will facilitate groundbreaking astronomical and cosmological research. The Pulitzers also awarded an investigative reporting prize to Madison Hopkins and Cecilia Reyes from the Better Government Association for their examination of Chicago’s long history of failed building- and fire-safety enforcement.

The crisis-and-conflict cycle

At the workshop, Deb Aikat (Professor of Journalism and Media, Hussman School) referred to an example of how a subscription-based newspaper (such as the Wall Street Journal) puts significant time and resources into breaking a major news story, only to have several platform-based outlets report a nearly identical version. This is an increasingly common occurrence as the business models of traditional newspapers shift to the platform-driven model.

The Institute’s first meeting of its Media and Conflict Working Group analyzed the role of the media throughout the conflict cycle, from inception to resolution. Panelists included Kemal Kurspahic, founding chairman of the Institute and former editor-in-chief of the Bosnian daily newspaper Oslobodenje; Steven Livingston, professor of Media and Public Affairs and International Affairs at George Washington University; and John Langlois, USAID Office of Transition Initiatives.

Livingston emphasized that key actors in any conflict seek to manipulate media coverage. Those who are weak will seek to draw media attention to the conflict in order to enlist support and increase perceptions of suffering, while those in positions of dominance will attempt to minimize the extent of the problem.

The impact of conflict goes far beyond the physical violence. It transforms (and often destroys) economies, communities and household support systems that lie far from the frontlines. It also has varying impacts on vulnerable groups, such as women and girls.

The myth-making cycle

The myth-making cycle is the process by which journalists create stories that explain the world. These stories are shaped by the imagination and beliefs of both journalists and readers. This shapes the form of the story and how it is interpreted. A similar cycle occurs in the creation of myths, philosophy and beliefs. In this way, myths can become the basis for political decisions and actions.

The capacity and inclination of most people to absorb news and political information is limited. The capacity to learn is a scarce resource in most communities and the time available for such learning is even more limited.

It is therefore unrealistic to expect audiences to be able and willing to study the contents of news reports or to read and listen carefully enough to comprehend the political issues involved. In addition, most people do not see news as a teacher-student relationship and don’t associate the reading and listening of news with sitting in a classroom receiving lessons that must be committed to memory.

The media’s adherence to the norm of neutrality prevents them from telling their audiences where they might find reliable, relevant information on complex policy problems. This leads to the problem of the public being unable to judge the merits of different policies. This problem is aggravated when the policies are based on institutional failures, such as the savings-and-loan debacle, or on impending major economic crises, such as the monetary meltdown.

The culture of lying

Politics is a multistage theater where officials script events and simulate sentiments for the media’s consumption. These impersonations meet the dictionary definition of lying. And, as a consequence of the cynical, self-serving nature of these performances, they corrupt the policy process and create conditions for government policies that are not legitimately derived from democratic debate.

Weaver, who identifies himself as “an old-school conservative,” argues that the press fails to report truthfully and is too eager to embrace government propaganda. He cites Walter Cronkite, who told his viewers that the only rational thing to do in Vietnam was to negotiate a peace settlement, as a classic example.

The press focuses on dueling cover stories with their drama and conflict but fails to discover and report the underlying realities. This distortion distorts the policy process, erodes public perceptions of government activities, and fosters political demagoguery, such as Donald Trump’s.

To correct this problem, Weaver recommends reforms that are similar to Lippmann’s suggestions from 1919. These include the introduction of a line-item veto and new efforts to improve the flow of information in the polity by encouraging the production of news in institutions devoted to this purpose. These would deflate the pressures for cynical manipulation of the media and return politics to a more constitutional path. They might also reduce the incentives for officials to respond to crises with emergency action and prevent them from gaining an unintended advantage by lying.