Adding Radio and Video Web Casts to Political News in Print: '... Am I Becoming the First Correspondent in My Paper's History Who Has No Time to Think?'

Article excerpt

It is not easy to do anything for the first time when working for a newspaper founded in 1889. The more I think about the long history of my paper, Helsingin Sanomat, the largest daily in Finland, the more privileged I feel about being its correspondent covering the 2008 U.S. presidential campaign.

This election cycle is historic for reasons no one now needs to repeat. But the historical nature of this campaign goes--at least for my paper and our readers--beyond the selection of candidates that Americans are making. I am also the first correspondent from my newspaper to report on the U.S. primaries and the general election for a radio station that has become part of my paper's daily life. And I am the first correspondent to record and edit video reports from the campaign trail on a regular basis for our Web site. Add to these firsts the fact that I am surely the first of many Helsingin Sanomat correspondents to know how my election stories from the United States rank against, say, a story of a heart attack of a famous singer or the stabbing of a taxi driver in Helsinki.

Turns out that I've been very encouraged by checking the "most read articles" of the day or of the week after my stories about an important primary contest have appeared on our Web site. They are consistently among the top 10, no matter what has been going on in Finland. Same goes with my videos. Often, after my stories are put up on our Web site, what follows are lively online discussions. From these, I feel I know much more about the thoughts and needs of my audience than I used to when I was only writing for the newspaper. Back then, feedback came through the mail in an occasional letter from a reader.

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This time, I have readers who might praise or criticize my story in an instant. One reader--a strong Barack Obama supporter--was angry when I made a mention in one of my stories that Hillary Clinton had won in Texas. He sent me a link that had a calculation of the delegate count (that was still ongoing) showing that Obama was very likely to win in Texas measured by the number of delegates, even if Clinton had won the popular vote.

This would never have happened to my predecessors who covered other presidential races, for instance Carter vs. Ford or Clinton vs. Bush. During those years the readers of Helsingin Sanomat had no access to The New York Times, The Des Moines Register, CNN or Real Clear Politics. For most of them, there was only the election that Helsingin Sanomat and the Finnish broadcast media chose to report about.

Having the stories from all of these other news organizations available to my potential readers through the Internet creates competition for what I write. But it also provides a great way to add other dimensions to my reporting. In the old days, a reporter described with words how enthusiastic the Iowan crowds were when they met Jimmy Carter. Now I can show, in video, the level of interest and excitement (or disinterest and boredom) that a candidate receives.

I recall that when Obama was found to have "plagiarized" Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick in his speech about "just words," my online audience read not only my Finnish-language story on the topic but found a link to the YouTube video on which they could hear and watch the similarities in the speeches of the two politicians.

Hearing From Readers

What I've learned is that many of our readers are total junkies of American politics. They seem to know about all of the characters involved. Some condemned me in their e-mails and Web comments for not paying enough attention to Ron Paul's presidential run. Others debated if I made a mistake in how I described the American evangelical movement while writing about Mike Huckabee's colorful run.

They study the issues pages of the candidates, watch debates online, tell me how they love Jon Stewart, and generally appear to be more enthusiastic about the race than most Americans I meet. …