Perhaps history will determine that the so-called values gap was a myth based on misleading exit-poll data. But even if the values gap is a myth, it's still likely that the media's knowledge gap about the American electorate is all too real. Peter Johnson, media columnist for USA Today, surveyed news managers in the midst of heavy soul searching, and reports his findings to Bob.
BOB GARFIELD: Perhaps history will determine that the so-called values gap was a myth based on misleading exit poll data. But even if the values gap is a myth, it's still likely that the media's knowledge gap about the American electorate is all too real. Peter Johnson, media columnist for USA Today, interviewed news managers in the midst of some heavy soul searching.
PETER JOHNSON: They were so sure that Kerry and the Democrats were going to win, that when they lost, I think it has set off a whole bunch of soul searching that a lot of people in the media had never done before, and I think that it's going to continue for the next couple of months.
BOB GARFIELD: And what form do you think it's mostly likely to take?
PETER JOHNSON: I think you're going to see major news organizations fanning out around the country, like they did during the election, only instead of talking to political operatives, they're going to talk to so-called real people. At the New York Times, I talked to the editor there, Bill Keller, who said he'd like to consider re-opening the Kansas City Bureau, and he's thinking about doing more stories on how demographic shifts in the plains states have affected life there. I've also heard, for instance, over at NBC that the Today Show is thinking about possibly going on the road and trying to figure out how either united or divided the country is. That's an example of the type of thing that I think people are soul searching about.
BOB GARFIELD: Well, I can't help but remember 9/11 and the resolution by the major networks and the print press as well to start paying more attention to the world at large and being less parochial and less focused on domestic news, which, you know, they did for about five to seven minutes and then--
PETER JOHNSON: No, no. I would disagree on that. I would say eight to nine minutes on that, Bob. [LAUGHTER]
BOB GARFIELD: It is fair to observe that whatever soul searching they did then has long since been erased?
PETER JOHNSON: Yes. I think it's fair to assume that, and I think that all of this that you and I are talking about may have that shelf life as well. On the other hand, who knows? I think that they'd be well-served by getting out into the countryside.
BOB GARFIELD: So you're not rolling your eyes over this determination by the networks and others in the press to fan out to at least get a little more perspective.
PETER JOHNSON: I think we'd get a lot better journalism if they actually saw how Americans eat and how they live and how they sleep and how they go to work each day, and we'd also start finding out a lot more about the homogenization of America and how a lot of towns and cities look exactly the same these days, because of big business. So, all those stories, I think, are important. For a lot of producers and a lot of editors, they find their stories one block away or one floor away. They don't even bother to go to Staten Island. They don't even bother to go to Rockland County, which is right across the Hudson River. And so I'm very hopeful that they actually will get out there, and they actually will spend some time with people, because those same people are the people who voted for George Bush and said screw you, major media.
BOB GARFIELD: Well, Peter, thank you so much.
PETER JOHNSON: Bob, nice talking to you.
BOB GARFIELD: My old friend Peter Johnson writes about media for the Life section of USA Today.
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