Critiques that journalists hear over election coverage also can be applied to everyday reporting.
A presidential election is one of the greatest tests the American news media can endure. It is an event that directly affects nearly everyone in the country, and the performance of the national media has a significant influence over its outcome. Nearly everything that citizens know about the candidates from knowledge of their proposals to a feeling for their personality - comes from the media.
Because the stakes are so high, so are the dangers. In a national election, there are countless agendas to take into consideration: What image does the candidate want to project? What interests are behind that image? What weaknesses are being downplayed or ignored? When journalists follow a candidate's run for the White House, they are reporting for such a broad-based and diverse audience that it often can be difficult to represent all the interests. But those journalists have to do it.
The amount of spin and planned manipulation that has become a standard part of campaigning makes the journalists' job that much more difficult. On Page 17, Jena Heath gives us a glimpse into life on the campaign trail. This year is her first time covering a presidential election, and she's following Texas Gov. George W. Bush on his campaign tour.
Of the two presidential candidates, Bush has been called the more mediasavvy. As the story in this issue shows, he does a good job of getting personal with the media that cover him. His nicknames, inside jokes and charming chit-chat with reporters can go a long way in bringing out his more human side - a side that he hopes will be reflected in the coverage he receives.
Vice President Al Gore is known for an approach that seems to be just the opposite. He goes out of his way to carefully plan and script the coverage he receives, and he often opts for a more stiff and prepared image over a personal, human one.
Is it possible to give equal and fair coverage to these two candidates? Journalists that cover these issues have to see past the hype, see past the artificial friendliness, see past the charm. They have to take in the spin offered by both sides and try to decide what is truly important because the public relies on them for information.
And, as Heath's story shows, a certain pack mentality is inherent in political coverage. A special kind of camaraderie develops among the reporters who spend countless hours and days together on long bus trips. When the people who head up the coverage share quotes, share tips, and share ideas, what happens to originality in their coverage? It becomes even more of a challenge to look beyond the prepared statements and events and find the real stories - the stories that are of interest to the real public - that lie beneath. …