Seven Tips for Election Reporting

by
Jun 27, 2008 in Specialized Topics

Stick to the issues.

Watch out for candidates who employ clever public relations tactics that have nothing to do with real election issues. Some candidates find they can call more attention to themselves by launching a hate campaign against their opponents (personal family values is a favorite topic) rather than addressing important issues like the economy and jobs.

Beware of exaggerating controversy.

Too often on a day when a story doesn’t hit us in the face, some reporters and editors create and then exaggerate a potential conflict. Better to let that day pass without a 20-second sound bite or a byline.

Equal time for all.

Keep a meticulous running score on space and play (front page, inside) given to each candidate. Uneven reporting is the most certain way to lose credibility and readers.

Don’t forget the voter.

Reporters should keep up with what the voters are thinking, not only through polls and man-in-the-street quick quotes, but by meaningful probing of how families are surviving. Remember to cover the regions and not just key areas of the country.

Beware of “poll-itis.”

Polls can be useful, but they can be overused and manipulated. A reader will be better served by more old-time regional reports with interviews and predictions from voters and field experts.

Don’t over-analyze.

Much of the energy and time devoted to analyzing the candidates’ every move would be better utilized telling readers what voters think rather than what a desk-bound dreamer, with a license to sway, wishes would happen.

Beware of “creeping legitimacy.”

Creeping legitimacy occurs when one news organization (usually a not-so-reliable one) publishes a story based on a rumor or one source and other media houses follow suit out of fear of missing the story. News organizations should apply the same reporting standards of their own investigative efforts (double-check every fact) to any political campaign rumors and scandals. The reporter must never serve as a mere conduit for unchecked personal information on a candidate, especially from a questionable source. Stick by your own standard of fact-checking before pulling the trigger.

(From an article by Thomas Winship, chairman of the International Center for Journalists and former editor of The Boston Globe. Written for Editor & Publisher, Oct. 3, 1992)