Dos and don’ts for the election countdown
Publishers’ Auxiliary/October 2012
Don’t fear. The exhausting election season is nearing an end. Your newsrooms are soon to return to normalcy – still chaotic, but at least a little more organized.
Elections are one of the most scrutinized areas of coverage, especially if newspapers have a strong editorial voice. Editors and reporters are well aware of the political passions – just log your phone calls, e-mails and visits from candidates as well as their supporters and detractors.
The pressure will only build in these final weeks as campaigns seek to elevate the electability of their candidates. It’s an excellent time for newspapers to reaffirm the principles that have guided their coverage for all these months and resolve to not get hoodwinked on election eve.
Here’s one checklist of dos and don’ts:
Press releases: Do give consideration to press releases of substance, and strive to give all parties opportunity to comment, if warranted. Don’t give a second thought to ignoring the churn of releases produced by some campaigns that are repetitive and/or level a series of unsubstantiated charges against opponents.
Letters to the editor: Do your best to provide a forum for readers to endorse their favorite or unendorse their least favorite candidates; letters are the lifeblood of an editorial page. Do not be afraid to edit letters aggressively, especially those that are clearly part of an orchestrated effort.
Candidate forums: Do report on those forums that offer the potential for exploring new territory or feature races where candidates are running neck-in-neck. Do not feel compelled to devote staff time and resources on events that offer little more than a regurgitation of issues and statements that have been reported to death.
Whistle-stop tours: Do report on touring politicians who are seeking statewide office if you have the ability to quiz them on issues that connect with your readers. Do not feel driven to publish a photo and cutline of politicians who make a 10-minute stop as part of a statewide bus tour.
Candidate endorsements: Do report endorsements or noteworthy statements of support for candidates, especially those that are contrary to the political norm; include reaction from the respective campaigns. Do not waste your precious time covering a press conference from the local county Republican or Democratic chair offering their obligatory support for the local slate of legislative candidates.
Deadlines: Do stick to the deadlines, especially the ones specifically set for election season – i.e. the date for letters to the editor that raise new issues. Don’t accept such feeble excuses as someone was caught in traffic or that the clock on the home computer was five minutes slower than the editor’s computer.
Election coverage truly tests the thick skin of newsrooms. That’s all the more reason to place a premium on fairness and consistency. Don’t be surprised if the brickbats still outweigh the bouquets tossed the way of editors and reporters. If all sides are crying foul, it’s a good bet you’ve put your best foot forward.
Newspapers may have a tendency to feel battered and bruised by the time Election Day arrives and ballots are cast. In truth, we should be grateful for the attention placed on each and every word, photo, ad or other element of election coverage. Despite today’s splintered media landscape, newspapers have the edge in their ability to devote space for comprehensive and meaningful election coverage. Candidates recognize that and care deeply how they are portrayed to the electorate.
The good newspapers are seizing the challenge of remaining the fortress of local information.