Journalist Chuck Raasch recently traversed the country from Seattle to Washington, D.C., and then wrote a marvelous essay about how disconnected his destination city was from the rest of the heartland. You should read the entire thing, but this part rings particularly true:
Social media’s “me-ism” ethic is deleterious to the tenets of a journalism that seeks the unfamiliar and explains the unknowns of a larger world. The economic pressures it has brought to traditional media and the celebrity-as-news movement have made it harder to do the explanatory and oversight journalism that once brought Washington and the provinces closer.
Local and regional newspapers and TV stations have shuttered or stripped down their Washington bureaus. Coastal-centric national cable networks and news organizations have devalued original, explanatory and expensive reporting on Flyover Country in favor of drive-by disaster coverage or the same endless-loop ideological arguments from people who, you suspect, not only have never been to places they are talking about, but have absolutely no desire to go to Those Towns.
Raasch is critical of Mark Leibovich’s recent Washington tell-all This Town. But Leibovich actually documents something very similar: Social media, rather than expanding Washington’s horizons and connecting it to those it governs, has instead made the city more provincial. Government staffers, pundits, and journalists walk around with their heads buried in their iPhones, quarreling over some picayune health care statistic on Twitter, and steadfast in the conviction that this makes them intelligent and well-rounded. Social media creates the illusion of a democratic conversation. But it’s mostly just members of the political class talking to other members of the political class about a shrinking and detached set of political issues.
Meanwhile, as Raasch notes, the real innovation in the heartland is entirely off the radar of Washington wonkery:
Detroit went bust, despite a thriving auto industry that not long ago needed a federal boost. North Dakota’s energy boom is spilling into neighboring states despite the lack of a coherent national energy policy that merges the economy and the environment, and people there think the boom is going to last. Despite lingering pockets of drought and Congress’ struggle to come up with a new farm bill, the Farm Belt is about to deliver a potentially record corn and soybean crop this fall. On farm radio stations, Brazilian soybean yields or Japan’s latest wheat purchase are as important as anything out of Washington.
Bernie Goldberg once suggested that the Big Three news broadcasts should be headquartered in flyover country rather than Washington or New York. At the very least, wonks and journalists should occasionally venture out into the country they claim to govern and cover. It does the soul some good.