Magazine article Editor & Publisher

Covering Elections

Magazine article Editor & Publisher

Covering Elections

Article excerpt

The best intentions yield the same old story; newspapers are labeled 'prisoners of the past'

After the 1988 presidential election, there were forums, promises, and probably the best of intentions to improve coverage of the campaign in 1992.

It's now 1992, and there is some debate over whether that has happened.

"After decades of chasing the television model by reducing the hard news content of newspapers, this election year we're going to wake up and find that television has captured some of our market," said Bill Kovach, curator of the Nieman Foundation, who moderated a panel dissussion about election coverage during the American Society of Newspaper Editors conference in Washington, D.C.

Kovach warned that people are turning to the two C-SPAN channels and CNN, among others, for their political news.

"We should worry about losing our news audience to television, not the entertainment audience we've been chasing," Kovach warned.

Calling newspapers "prisoners of the past" that keep promising coverage of each election will be different, Boston Globe Washington correspondent John Mashek said, "I think we can do a far better job in (covering) the general campaign than we did in the primaries."

Warning of the "creeping polls problem," Mashek said there is a tendency to raise the mention of poll results higher and higher in stories until they take over the news.

In addition, discussing the character issue, Mashek commented, "I think character is very important ... but I certainly don't want a shopping-center tabloid to set the pace and then we step back and take a holier-than-thou attitude and say we didn't start it."

Conceding that print is at the mercy of the television camera, because that is where the consultants and the candidates go, Mashek said newspapers "ought to focus on more than sound bites."

Newhouse News Service's Washington bureau chief Deborah Howell said covering presidential politics "is one of the most frustrating things I've ever done. …

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