The Inlander/March 2010
A small-town editor lamented an approaching press conference by a statewide candidate. The issues to be addressed were at the forefront of her community, but unfortunately her readers would receive the word first from the nearby daily.
Many community newspapers likely face similar circumstances, yet the predicament need not be so daunting if newspapers utilize their Web sites. The Web places community newspapers on a level playing field with their larger counterparts and the broadcast media. The Web should be at the forefront of all newsrooms in everyday operations and especially so during the election season.
The Web affords dailies and nondailies alike an avenue to expand coverage. At the front end, it’s the first stop for breaking news. On the other hand, the Web affords unlimited space for in-depth coverage.
Here is one checklist for utilizing the Web to complement and supplement coverage. Newsrooms should take time to brainstorm additional opportunities for embracing the Web in all aspects of election coverage.
Expand the coverage. Post candidate position papers, complete press releases and other material that editors deem newsworthy but are unable to accommodate in the print edition. List appropriate links to candidate Web sites. Make certain however, that unlimited space does not translate into a free-for-all for candidates and their public relations machines. Releases and position papers must be scrutinized for news value. Candidates who attempt to portray advertorial as news should be directed to the advertising department.
Think beyond words. Don’t limit the expanded coverage to words. Focus on video and audio as well; the opportunities are many. Present slide shows of campaign events. Bring a camera to a press conference and present immediate coverage, promoting a more detailed story in the print edition. Post full-length candidate interviews for those readers who want to hear candidates think on their feet and respond to questions in their actual words. Live video streaming from iPhones or other handhelds via ustream.tv or qik.com are also available.
Letters to the editor. Newspapers generally experience an overabundance of letters to the editor and other commentary during election season. One option is to reserve space in the newspaper for the more substantive letters that address issues. The strictly “endorsement” letters – those that express general support for candidates but don’t really focus on issues – can be posted on the Web. Create a letters section on the Web for easy reference.
Compare and contrast candidate endorsements. Many organizations and newspapers weigh in on which individuals they believe will best represent various constituencies. Package these endorsements in one section so readers can evaluate the arguments and then respond with their own comments.
Provide links to other Web sites and blogs. Many individuals and organizations offer their perspectives on candidates and issues. Candidates also might forward links to Web sites that promote their campaigns. Establish criteria for publicizing these links. No. 1, Web sites should be verified as credible sources of information. No. 2, editors must sift through the maze of blogs to see which ones are pertinent and worthwhile to the election dialogue.
Enlist a citizens panel. Many newspapers, no matter the size of their newsrooms, are strapped for resources to present thorough campaign coverage. Select a citizens panel – representing a cross-section of your community’s demographics – and have them weigh in at various stages of the campaigns. Who do they support, and why? Are their opinions swayed by a particular event or press conference at a critical juncture of the campaign, and why? What do they identify as candidate strengths and weaknesses? Their observations and reactions throughout the campaign – and on election night – can be posted on the Web immediately with minimal or no editing.
Breaking news. Distribute e-mail blasts for important breaking news.
Campaigns from beginning to end. Editors would like to believe that all readers are attentive to the blow-by-blow developments in campaigns. The reality is that people are busy and stories get missed. The Web presents an opportunity to chronicle campaigns from candidate profiles to debates to Q&As on issues central to the race. Readers have a one-stop shop to a comprehensive and chronological overview of campaigns. Most important, however, is that the coverage is organized and easy to navigate.
Election-night coverage. Post running vote totals on election night, especially for those local races where the information might not be readily available in other media outlets.
A couple of final points to consider as newsrooms weave the Web into their everyday election coverage.
No. 1, personal blogs for editors and political reporters should be mandatory. The observations and insights can be valuable elements in election dialogue.
No. 2, explain what coverage will be found in the newspaper and what will be posted on the Web. Readers and candidates can become confused if coverage is fragmented and disjointed.
Newspapers should continually cross-promote their tandem coverage between the print edition and the Web. The best coverage in either venue will be missed if readers are not kept abreast of the hows and whys of coverage.