MSNBC President Phil Griffin has a plan to turn around his network’s fortunes: Among other initiatives, the New York-based channel will “invest in more programming and news coverage that goes beyond the Beltway,” Stephen Battaglio reports in the Los Angeles Times.
“We’re going to get on the road — and outside of Washington — a lot more,” Battaglio quotes Griffin as writing. “We’re going to keep opening up our aperture, while investing in original reporting on the broad range of stories that move and inspire Americans.”
Getting out of normal newsgathering patterns is a great move for many news organizations. But a 64-mile long circle of asphalt is not a real barrier between Washington-area residents and “real people.” What actually separates us from the rest of America is the idea that we’re all that stands between various organizations and success.
Take for instance the National Corn Growers Association’s recent promotion of Jon Doggett to executive vice president. “Now, more than ever, corn farmers need to be expanding our reach to strengthen our alliances beyond the Beltway,” the group’s CEO, Chris Novak, said by way of announcement. “With the issues facing corn farmers today, Jon is the perfect person to lead efforts to grow our strategic alliances and tell the story of America’s corn farmers to a wider audience.” That story was, apparently, previously thwarted by people in Annandale.
Or a recent Beyond the Beltway Insights Initiative report, which showed that “Congress is held in low regard and the inability to get things done is a major concern of voters.” No way you could get that insight from someone in Seat Pleasant! (The report, conducted by two DC-based entities, did in fact poll people in the District, Maryland and Virginia as well as in other regions.)
But lazy thinking about the Washington area is by no means limited to blaming a highway for standing between a cosseted elite and the free flow of ideas and information. There’s also the shifting date at which Washington stopped being a “sleepy Southern town,” which “credits the District with a level of stability and continuity that never existed,” Felix Gillette wrote in 2003. Or the related idea that the District has an especially transient population compared to other cities.
There is a truth buried in the use of these clichés—the DC area is just as useful as “Wall Street” or “Hollywood” when someone wants to take a shortcut to a sweeping statement. That’s something that never used to happen back when this was a sleepy Southern town.