Bill Barrow, Associated Press Reporter, Calls for American Journalism to Reclaim Nuance and Complexity

On Monday, May 9, 2022, Bill Barrow, National Politics Reporter for the Associated Press, visited Dartmouth College to deliver the Bernard D. Nossiter '47 Lecture titled, "Covering American Democracy: It's Not a Game (At Least It Shouldn't Be)." Mr. Barrow brought his expertise and experience in reporting on the Democratic Party to the Dartmouth community, speaking to students and Hanover community members on bringing "nuance and complexity" to American journalism in an era of "red/blue politics."

Barrow was introduced by Alexis Jetter, a veteran journalist, teacher, and radio commentator who teaches journalism in the English Department and the Women's, Gender, and Sexuality Studies program at Dartmouth. In her introduction, Jetter highlighted Barrow's important work on the "stunning changes in US democracy." She jokingly commented on Barrow's "SportsCenter journalism" characterization of today's media as incompatible with Barrow's own fondness for sports.

In his opening comments, Barrow remarked that he intended for his audience to leave with one idea — that "nuance and complexity are not the enemies of journalism." In an era of hyperpartisanship, where trust in institutions is declining and headlines are becoming increasingly sensationalized, "horse-race journalism" has pushed policy debates aside and instead "evolved into constant scorekeeping." As a result, today's journalism, Barrow concluded, misses important trends and nuances of the political landscape. Barrow's extensive experience covering Joe Biden's 2020 campaign and primaries across the American South informed the anecdotes he recounted throughout his talk. In one example, Barrow shared that the Democratic presidential nominee has always swept the primaries from Virginia through Texas, whereas the majority of presidential primary media coverage focuses on the earliest states of Iowa and New Hampshire.

At the core of his talk, Barrow proposed a four-step strategy for bringing nuance and complexity to American journalism: define, see, position, present. Americans, Barrow posited, should no longer be defined by red and blue labels. States, he pointed out, are more diverse than just "red" and "blue" — Massachusetts, as one of many examples, has a well-liked Republican governor but sends only Democrats to Congress. Secondly, typically ignored areas, like states late in the primary process, should be seen. Next, the people we position in newsrooms must be decided more thoughtfully, by embracing diversity of all kinds, including economic, geographic, and ideological. Finally, the news must be presented in a more layered fashion, blending policy and politics.

Before opening the event to questions from the audience, Jetter returned to Barrow to ask several questions of her own. Jetter began with the pertinent question of the future of Roe v. Wade, the landmark decision that a Supreme Court draft opinion leaked last week revealed may be overturned. On the political implications, Barrow noted that both sides of the abortion debate will be invigorated by the news, and it is hard to comment on which side will feel more mobilized to take action. In the long term, Barrow said the key question will be what the news implies for the political inclinations of young, non-ideological women.

The event concluded with questions from members of the audience. Barrow fielded questions on a variety of relevant topics, including the 2022 midterms and rural-urban disparities in America. His expertise and deep understanding of the American political landscape informed his thoughtful and nuanced responses.

– Written by Kavya Nivarthy '25, Rockefeller Student Assistant for Public Programs