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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 to vote.

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 election night.


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.

 

 

Page Last Updated
January 15, 2009
 

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