Posted October 16, 2006
It's that time of year again when candidates are stumping for votes and stumping for good publicity from the media. This often puts journalists in the awkward position of doing election stories on sources they deal with on a regular basis. This includes people they respect and depend upon for information. From the outset this is a bad combination. We need them, they need us, but we also need to be fair and accurate in how we report on their campaigns.
Even experienced leaders who are seasoned campaigners and well-heeled at dealing with the media can get nervous around election time. Sometimes this means that they are super-sensitive to how we cover them in the weeks leading up to the election. For the journalist it's a delicate balance and responsibility. The media has a tremendous ability to influence the outcome of close elections. We must understand that power and the responsibility that goes along with it. While we don't consciously sway a story in one direction or the other, the very act of leaving material out of the story (a necessity in a 1:15 piece) means that we are exercising editorial control. For all of these reasons I think it's prudent to have several sets of eyes look over an election piece to make sure the reporter is being as fair as possible given the personal relationships involved.
When it's all said and done I prefer my beat, crime reporting, to election coverage any day. Crime reporting usually involves undisputed facts that can be attributed on the record to a credible source. Election reporting is never this cut and dry. But all reporters must report on elections. It's an important part of what we do as well as an important public service. In the end we can only be thankful that general elections come but once a year.