I found an interesting guest column in my local paper the other day from Dennis Hetzel, who is executive director of the Ohio Newspaper Association and president of the Ohio Coalition for Open Government. In his column, he admits that journalists in Ohio need to do a better job in reporting on the upcoming elections. Hetzel believes it should be based on issues and not the horse race. I’ve been complaining about that for years and I’m glad Hetzel offers some solutions.
Memo from Ohio news media to the public: Message received. You deserve better, more meaningful coverage of presidential elections. That’s a particularly urgent challenge for Ohio’s media outlets since the Buckeye State will again occupy the main stage in 2016. With that in mind, representatives of more than 30 Ohio media outlets and organizations met Dec. 16 in Columbus and shared concerns that too much political coverage has devolved into reporting on the campaigns while the interests of citizens disappear in the discussion.
That problem is acute in Ohio, a key swing state where campaigns often spend more money than in any other state. The public gets pummeled by advertising, telephone calls, e-blasts, mailings, staged events and too much shallow reporting. Negative advertising, often filled with half-truths at best, bombards the airwaves, discouraging and annoying citizens.
Scant time remains to present the voices of Ohioans or push candidates to address relevant issues in meaningful detail.
If citizens turn to news media for informed coverage, they see journalists facing more challenges than ever, including diminished resources to deliver the kind of coverage that speaks to Ohio’s 11 million people across several distinctly different regions.
Hetzel then lists some solutions that came from the meeting:
• Polling on the issues instead of the horse race that asks Ohioans to help set the agenda for coverage
• Sharing interviews of people across the state and collaborating on stories that bring the issues most important to Ohio citizens to life.
• Collaborating with national media on projects exploring negative advertising, how and where it is created and how it affects Ohioans.
• Coordinated engagement projects with young people that encourage them to think about and express themselves on major issues.
• Providing news organizations with excellent background so reporters can ask better, tougher, more insightful questions to the candidates as they parachute into Ohio for campaign stops that otherwise would provide nearly meaningless sound bites.
I really like the first two points and the last one. Too often the reporter is just a stenographer and asking junior high school level questions like “Trump called you a doo doo head. How do you respond?”
I would like better polling that ask about issues. For example, I want to see more of this:
“Ted Cruz has said he plans on blocking any current effort that lets undocumented immigrants legally remain in the U.S. Does that change your view of him?”
and less of this:
Because the corporate media is more interested in entertainment rather than issues we get too much coverage of Donald Trump shooting his mouth off and less coverage of Bernie Sanders and the majority of issues he and the public in general support.
Voters need as much information as possible to decide who to vote for and if the media defaults to the “entertaining horse race” and not the issues important to all of us then they are failing in their duty to the public.
The solutions proposed by Dennis Hetzel of the Ohio Newspaper Association is a good start.