Unhelpful to journalism as it’s traditionally done, at least. But for someone like Ezra Klein, who now fills a hybrid blogger/reporter/columnist role for the Post that didn’t exist even five years ago, political science represents “the most significant untapped resource” for journalists. He and a group of bloggers, reporters, and opinion-shapers increasingly trade links not just with The Monkey Cage but with other poli-sci writers—one of whom, Jonathan Bernstein, landed a plum guest stint at Andrew Sullivan’s The Daily Dish barely six months after he began blogging (and more recently filled in at Klein’s blog). A modest new feature at Salon, meanwhile, suggests another model for how to bring poli-sci insights to a broader audience. The Numerologist uses a chart or graph to make a point that pushes back against accepted political wisdom. (Salon’s News Editor Steve Kornacki said he borrowed the idea from the sports page at The Wall Street Journal, which has been bringing the statistical revolution in sports analysis to a mass audience.)
Beyond a generally center-left perspective, the journalists who have engaged most with political science—including Ambinder, who, six weeks after the Game Change flap, wrote a pair of posts building off evidence, highlighted by Sides, supporting the claim that most “independent” voters aren’t really independent—have something in common: they’re operating under a new model of what it means to be a political reporter, one that allows them to conceive of “news” in a different way. As Anne Kornblut, another Post political reporter, put it, “They’re not aiming for A1 and being asked, ‘What’s new here? How is this going to change the country tomorrow?’ ” Klein is explicit on this point, outlining a role for journalists that sounds as much like teaching as reporting. “I think that we as a profession need to become more comfortable with repetition,” he says. “What is newest is often not what is most helpful for readers.” A case in point: when explaining why legislation is bottled up in Congress, Klein routinely discusses the skyrocketing use of Senate filibusters—a recent and consequential change in the rules of politics that nonetheless doesn’t count as “news” on most days.
That’s not to say that traditional reporting tasks will go by the wayside, nor should they. But even in day-to-day coverage, a poli-sci perspective can have value in helping reporters make choices about which storylines, and which nuggets of information, really matter. For that to happen, political scientists must do more to make their work accessible, reaching beyond the circle of journalists who are inclined to, as Sides says, “embrace the wonk.”
Klein, for one, believes that as academics make more of an effort to put their insights before his colleagues, they’ll find a receptive audience. His colleague Kornblut sounds ready to listen. “We’re on the front lines every day,” she says. “So help us.”