During a panel discussion today on local coverage of the 2012 election, journalists said the presidential election, as it played out in Colorado, consumed so much of their time that they were unable to give proper attention to other important Colorado races, including congressional campaigns.
“The presidential just drowns out everything else,” said CBS4 Political Specialist Shaun Boyd. “I did cover the local stuff, but it’s hard to do that when you’ve got so much going on with the presidential race, and that’s what so many people are focused on.”
“TV is broadcasting, and the word ‘broad’ is real, ” added Fox 31 Political Reporter Eli Stokols. “If we think about what people are most interested in, it’s what they’re already hearing about, the presidential stuff. It’s hard for us to cover congressional races in much detail.
Colorado Public Radio reporter Megan Verlee told the audience of about 30 people at the Independence Institute that her station tries to explain why other races matter.
“If you’re covering the CD-7 race, most of your listeners aren’t in CD-7 , they’re wondering, ‘Why do I care about Coors and Perlmutter?'” Verlee said. “And then if you’re covering a State House race, the vast, vast majority of your listeners are not in that area. We were running stories reminding people why it matters who controls the Legislature next time. So if you’re uncomfortable with legal recognition for gay unions, and you’re Republican, you might want to get out and help your candidate. If you want civil unions, and you’re a Democrat, you might want to go out and help your candidate. There were things we could say–‘This is why you need to pay attention to your local races.’ And we actually interviewed Ernest Luning from the Statesman who was doing really great coverage of the State House races and we linked to his website.”
All four reporters on the panel, which was moderated by Diane Carman, Communications Director for the University of Colorado Denver’s School of Public Affairs, said Twitter has had a major impact on their reporting, and they expect this to continue.
“Twitter allows you to be in different places at once,” said Associated Press reporter Ivan Moreno. “It can be a huge distraction, but it’s a huge benefit. I could not live without it as a reporter.
“It makes us into a team,” said Verlee, agreeing with Moreno. “Nobody could be everywhere at once. It makes reporters from competing outlets each other’s eyes and ears.”
“I saw a couple times this year where [a story] wouldn’t have been such a big deal on our station had it not blown up on Twitter,” said CBS4’s Shaun Boyd.
Boyd cited her interview with Mitt Romney, whose staff told Boyd not to ask questions about abortion issues. Boyd and others at CBS4 didn’t think much of this, because preconditions to interviews are not unheard of, she said.
“When that went up on Twitter, I was stunned,” Boyd said. “I was hauled into the news director’s office. And the head of communications for Romney’s campaign was on the phone. And suddenly I have to totally change how I’m telling this story. I mean, [the precondition] becomes the story. And I felt that the only reason it became the story that day was because it blew up on Twitter.”
None of the journalists on the panel, which would have included The Denver Post’s Politics Editor Chuck Plunkett, had he not gotten sick this morning, claimed to be influenced much by angry partisans who think journalists are biased.
“You know what’s funny, it’s gotten to a point where people get angry and see things as biased, it doesn’t impact me at all,” said Stokols. “The person it impacts, is the person leveling that charge. What that is, writ large, is a certain type of person, and they exist on both sides, who doesn’t want to live outside of that bubble, that idea bubble, that thought bubble, [because] it doesn’t fit the way they see the world. It’s a biased reporter. It’s a skewed poll. It’s dismissed. You can only insulate yourself from reality for so long.”
“If you look at the news that makes you uncomfortable, it will make you more effective, whether you are a campaign or volunteer,” he said. “If you just look at the stuff you like to digest, then the rude awakening is not far away.”
All four journalists on the panel, which was jointly sponsored by the Independence Institute, the University of Colorado Denver’s School of Public Affairs, and my own BigMedia.org, rejected the notion, presented by an audience member, that journalists should state their biases openly, rather than act as if they have no opinions, and strive to be fair and accurate, as expected according to modern standards of professional journalism.
“If you are involved in a court case, and you go before a judge, and you know all of his biases, which everyone has, but you then realize they are unfavorable to you, you would have the perception that you would get an unfair trial,” said AP’s Moreno. “I think it’s the same with journalism. With us, it’s not that we don’t have personal opinions, but I think we need to be objective and maintain public trust. If we expressed our opinions, people would question, much more so, our facts that we report and our objectivity.”