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Covering stories about money and politics is a difficult task on television. Reporters end up with a paper trail full of information and few pictures to go with it. So how do you translate those miles of paper and piles of numbers into interesting and understandable television pieces?

Here are some tips and an Internet resource guide to help you begin cashing in on campaign finance stories.

Be Creative with Visuals

  • Stake out fundraisers and shoot arrivals so you can connect donors to candidates. It's even better if you can get in. Freeze frames and "iso-bubbles" can help highlight the individuals you mention.

  • Find out how much money has to be raised by candidates in how much time. Then shoot different people on the job in your community--showing how much they make in the same amount of time, or how much they'd have to work to raise that amount of money.

  • Create maps to show where the money comes from. Look up your zip code in campaign finance databases to see who the big donors in your area are and whom they give to. Look at how much money is coming in to your district from outside.

  • Consider using analogies to explain campaign finance for viewers. Is this system like anything viewers already understand? Are candidates engaged in a game of "Beat the Clock" or "Capture the Cash?"

  • Connect campaign advertising to both candidates and voters. Ask candidates to screen (and justify) their own ads. Ask voters to assess political ads for effectiveness.

  • Look for relationships between donors to find patterns of giving. Are these donors employees of the same company, members of the same union, registered to vote in the state, on the county or city payroll? Start with one donor and build the connections for viewers. Imagine tools you could use, like a dye injection or a family tree, to show relationships.

Keep an Eye on the Why

  • Always answer the question, "Why should viewers care?" in money and politics stories. It's been said that if you want a predictor of what politicians will do in office, look at where their money comes from. Connect the positions taken and projects supported by an incumbent to the financial backing he or she received in the previous election.

  • Provide perspective and context for viewers. When reporting how much a single donor has given, compare that to total funds raised or to other single donors' contributions.

  • Explain why candidates are raising money. Are they trying to scare off possible challengers or are they in a competitive race?

Use Characters as Narrators

  • Profile candidates through the eyes of a donor. Ask why they give to a particular candidate and what they hope to achieve. Match that up with what the candidate says he or she stands for.

  • Profile a signature gatherer. How much money does he or she make? Why is he or she doing it?

  • Look for surprising donors-people who give equally to both sides, donors who are giving for the first time-and look for possibly illegal donors, like children.

  • Find a retired politician who will speak freely about the campaign finance process.

Watch Spending Too

  • Track where the money is going. It's easier to get video of where funds are being spent than where they're being raised. Ask why campaigns patronize certain businesses as opposed to others. You may find that it's a payoff to donors or supporters. Story suggestion: compare the amount spent in one category or another to what viewers could buy with that much money.

  • Collect all the political mail you can over the course of a campaign season-or even just a week or two. Enlist others to help build your stockpile. Report on invitations to fundraisers, then stake them out to see who shows up. As the election approaches, analyze direct mail ads for viewers.

  • Track political phone calls through enlisted volunteers. Have them use the *69 system to find out where the calls come from, and trace the connections to candidates.

  • Use your own station's sales and commercial traffic records to track political advertising. Stations must keep public files on all requests for broadcast time by or on behalf of candidates, including ad costs. How much are they spending? Who is paying the freight? Why does that matter?



Page Last Updated
January 15, 2009

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