Pundit weighs in on media, elections

by Amar Kapadia and Emily Landgraf

Veteran journalist, pundit and author Eleanor Clift provided insight into the transformation of the media, women in politics and the heated 2010 midterm elections at a reception on Tuesday.

Eleanor Clift, a contributing editor for Newsweek, discusses the upcoming midterm elections and the media’s role in politics.

Clift, who is a contributing editor for Newsweek and has covered every major election since 1976, began her career there as a secretary in what many refer to as the golden age of journalism. Since then, she has seen the decline of the weekly magazine, and tries to remain optimistic about the future of journalism.

“When doors close, other doors open,” Clift said. “The world of the Internet has opened so many doors you hardly know which one to go through first.”

Newsweek is one of three major weekly magazines, along with Time and U.S. News and World Report, that is seeing a major decline in readership.

Newsweek was put up for sale by The Washington Post this summer, and we were purchased for one dollar and $70 million worth of debt. So, that is the transformation that I have lived through.”

Clift believes that the ability to download newspapers onto mobile devices may be the “salvation” of newspapers and weekly publications. She sees one issue in particular, however, that remains an impediment.

“We haven’t really figured out a business model that would replace the old business model, which was advertising,” she said. “People do not like to pay money on the Internet.”

Newsweek is still covering the midterm elections to the best of its ability, despite the issues it has faced in the past few years. The cover story this week deals with how the balance of power could change in this hotly contested election if the Republicans capture both houses of Congress.

Clift explained that according to Newsweek’s polling, the Democrats still have a fighting chance in this election. However, Clift says the Democrats cannot “actually win” this election.

“The party in power traditionally loses seats in this first midterm election,” Clift said. “But winning at this point for the Democrats would be if they maintained their majority in the Senate and also hang on to their narrow majority in the House.”

Clift also stated that young people in the United States are often not well-represented in polls because many of them only have cell phones, not land lines. Clift said that the Hispanic vote is rarely fully represented in polls either. These two groups played a key role in the 2008 elections, and could surprise the media and the politicians this year.

“I think if you adopt the theory that Republicans might not do as well as everybody’s been predicting and the Democrats might actually emerge with their majorities intact, you have to have a healthy skepticism of today’s polling operations,” she said.

Clift also discussed the possibility that this could be the first time since 1978 that an election does not add females to both houses, as the vast majority of females in the Senate and the House are Democrats. Some of those seats, she believes, will inevitably be lost to male opponents.

Clift spoke about the women she feels are the most influential in politics: former Alaskan governor Sarah Palin for the Republicans and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton for the Democrats.

“I think you’ve got to hand it to Sarah Palin at this point on the right,” she said. “When she speaks, the media jump, and she’s inspired, essentially, a lot of women to get into politics. On the Democratic side, I think Hillary Clinton has that mantle.”

When asked about the best advice she’d ever been given, Clift said that she usually gave herself pieces of advice, “chief among them would be to not try to be a perfectionist,” as this question never fails to stump her.

“Women in particular fall into this it’s got to be perfect or they can’t do it [trap], and it can be very destructive,” she said.

Clift also gave advice to seniors in the Communication and Journalism Department. These students, she said, will be entering a highly competitive field.

“There’s no secret to it,” she said. “I think what you have to remember is not to take rejection personally because there’s a lot of competition.”

Clift also stressed the the first job students get after college does not need to be “The Job.”

“Just get into the work environment, make contacts and figure out what you like and what you don’t like,” she said. “Don’t wait for everything to be perfect because it rarely is.”

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