MAKING CAMPAIGN COVERAGE COUNT
We know, we know. Politics is boring. All political stories look
the same. And viewers don't care about politics. It's a familiar
lament, but it doesn't have to be true. Viewers just might care
about political coverage if it were more interesting to watch, and
more useful in helping them make a decision about how they're going
Try these strategies and consult our guide
to Internet resources on covering campaigns for links that can
add context to your reporting. We also have a separate tipsheet
on covering money and politics.
Consider What Viewers Need
- A survey by the Pew Research Center found that 82% of Americans
say it is very important to learn about a candidate's reputation
for honesty, and almost as many (71%) say it's very important
to get a sense of how well candidates connect with average people.
Help viewers get to know who the candidates really are, not just
what they say, and explain why this matters.
- Surveys by the Center for Survey Research at the University
of Connecticut have found the public vastly more interested in
candidates' positions on the issues and the consequence of electing
a particular candidate than they are in campaign strategy and
who's ahead or behind. Make sure your coverage provides what people
want to know.
- Provide "horse race" information as you would a scoreboard
at a game--in the background, not as the central focus of stories.
Bring Politics to Life
- Profile candidates through the eyes of supporters. Introduce
your viewers to an active backer of each candidate. Ask why they
favor that particular candidate and what they hope that candidate
would achieve if elected. Match that up with what the candidate
says he or she stands for.
- Instead of telling a candidate's entire life story, choose
a slice in time and focus on a formative period. MTV, for example,
profiled all the candidates during the 2000 primaries by asking
"Where Were You at 22?"
- Help viewers compare candidates by looking at their positions
on a given issue, side by side, with graphics listing their positions
(for or against) on the same screen. Explain how those positions
would affect different people in your area if that candidate were
to be elected.
- Profile the job, not just the candidate. What does it take
to do the job well? Ask former office holders to reflect on the
skills and qualities required.
- Don't ignore the fun stuff that happens on the campaign trail.
Consider creating a special "campaign corner" segment.
Let viewers in on the fun, but be careful not to make fun.
Do More on the Web
- Help viewers see how their opinions match up with those of the
candidates by providing an online interactive quiz.
- Supplement and archive your political coverage on the Web.
Refer viewers to your online content, and make it easy for them
to find what they're looking for by putting a "politics"
link on the front page.
- Provide how-to information about registration and polling places,
more background about candidates and the issues, and results on
Look Ahead and Follow Up
- Think of election night as a time to look at what difference
the election results will make, especially when the outcome is
not in doubt.
- Keep tabs on promises after the election. Look back to see
what candidates said they would do and check their professed priorities
to see if they have delivered. Be sure you save tape from the
campaign to use again later.