The public and the press

Coverage Type: 

There are few more sought-after politicians in the United States at the moment than Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. In June, at 28 years old, by making a play from the left, she pulled off a stunning primary victory over Joe Crowley, who had represented New York in Congress since 1999—first from the 7th district, then the 14th. Wherever she goes, Ocasio-Cortez brings a media deluge.  A couple weeks ago, feeling mobbed by reporters, she decided to make two “listening tour” stops—one in the the Bronx and another in Queens, open to the public but not to the press. The press ban, her campaign team said, was meant “to help create a space where community members felt comfortable and open to express themselves without the distraction of cameras and press.” 

Even if press-free events are an anomaly, it is worrying for journalism that a politician with the support and profile of Ocasio-Cortez frames the presence of press at her meetings as being a hindrance to productive dialogue. Research suggests that, in the kinds of communities she is addressing—urban, poor, non-white—citizens might feel the same way.

Changes in technology transform the way people both consume news and view reporters. As the press becomes walled off from the rest of the public, it’s the responsibility of journalists to make a compelling case for themselves by modifying their behavior. Engaging with subjects as community members may not always seem to be a practical solution, but with access under strain during the coming election season, it is more urgent than ever.

[Emily Bell is Director at the Tow Center for Digital Journalism at Columbia Journalism School.]

The public and the press