You find people on both the far left and right of the political spectrum who couldn’t care less about the health of mainstream journalism or its coverage of stuff like elections.
But most political junkies agree with what Bob Moore, editor of the Coloradoan, told me: “My concern is whether the traditional media is in a position to do the election justice. There just aren’t enough eyeballs on these races to do the critical analysis.”
So how are the local journalists who still have jobs going innovate to cover the elections with fewer resources?
Moore, who’s assigned himself to the 4th Congressional District Race, said he’s had preliminary discussions with Adam Schrager at 9News about working with the University of Colorado and Colorado State University to do quick fact-checks of political advertisements.
“We expect a lot of sketchy ads this fall,” Moore said, “and there just aren’t enough bodies to get this basic political journalism done.”
Many of the bodies still practicing journalism can be found at The Denver Post. What kind of coverage can we expect from the state’s number-one newspaper?
“For print, for the mother ship, if you will, I really think the way we covered the Udall-Schaffer campaign in 2008 is the kind of model that I would like to continue this time around,” Political Editor Curtis Hubbard at The Post told me. “By that I mean, really trying to take …bigger picture’ looks and give readers a sense of where the candidates are on the issues and profiling them in that capacity and trying not to get distracted by the miscellaneous objects campaigns will throw up every day.”
Hubbard said he’s also considering finding citizen journalists to illuminate political events in new ways. One possibility is to “tap into people who might have access to events that we don’t have access to.”
The Post doesn’t have a final plan for this, but it might engage partisans to live blog or comment in some way from campaign events that The Post can’t attend, according to Hubbard. As an example, he pointed to a citizen journalist who, as part of the Huffington Post’s “Off the Bus” project, recorded presidential candidate Barack Obama talking about how Pennsylvanians cling to guns and god.
“Under our ethics policy, that wouldn’t fly,” he said. “Our ethics policy states that you identify yourself as a journalist and that you are working on a story. And so we wouldn’t have had access to that story. But, it absolutely was newsworthy. How can we tap into the people who might have access to events that we don’t have access to? It’s really intriguing to me, and I think could be very important.” (To delve more into the ethics of this, see the April issue of the Columbia Journaism Review.)
Hubbard promised that real, live journalists will be assigned to the major races: “We’ll significantly staff the state-wide races, the congressional races. We’ll use our resources with YourHub.com to do local-level things as best we can.” And Web-based tools will be offered to help voters make decisions.
Adam Schrager, the 9News political reporter, told me that the “Truth Tests,” which are basically fact checks of political ads, are the most popular election stories his station does, and the plan is to continue airing them this election cycle.
Schrager plans to “do whatever we can to give people access to the people who are asking for their votes.” This could include, among other things, taking voter questions for interviews or debates, offering live chats, and possibly lunch conversations.
“The more journalists you have, I think, the better,” he told me. “But at the same time, I’m more concerned about an active electorate than I am an active media. In the end, frankly, it’s up to individual voters to be skeptical themselves and to ask questions. That’s their responsibility. All we can do is help in the process.”
Along these lines, Schrager may teach online viewers how to do their own “Truth Tests” of political ads or brochures, as Schrager did at Douglas County and Berthoud libraries last year.
Even if innovations like these lead to quality coverage of the election, the empty seats at State Capitol press conferences these days are a pretty clear indication that the on-the-ground media coverage of the campaign will take another hit this year.
“Nontraditional media may be able to fill a little bit of the void but they won’t be able to afford to travel with the candidates on a regular basis and see how they tweak their stump speech from town to town and look for signs of pandering and things like that,” Moore at the Coloradoan told me.