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Posted on 12.08.2009

State of Journalism: Following the Story

State-Of-Journalism-Following-The-StoryI recently served as the communications manager for a local political campaign and experienced first-hand some of the media changes that I have read about for years. We have all heard about reduced revenues and staffing cuts in traditional media outlets (particularly newspapers). A direct result of this trend is that there are fewer reporters who each have to cover more topics and, as a whole, are creating less overall news content. You know these things are happening but you don’t always see the impact until you are deeply entrenched in an issue that deserves media attention. A local reporter is in a tough spot when he is assigned to cover a city council race while still keeping up with ongoing city business like city council meetings, council committees’ endeavors, and all council-related interactions with city officials and municipal services.

During our campaign, I made contact with the media on a regular basis to provide them updates on the process. I alerted the media each time the candidates filed fundraising reports, attended events and held community forums. But with the scope of everything else local reporters are expected to cover they simply don’t have the bandwidth to cover each element of a city council race. In fact, the campaign was relegated to one comprehensive story at the end of the campaign followed up with reporting of election results.  As a result, voters may not have had a chance to get to know the candidates over time or make the most informed choice on Election Day. One constituent became so frustrated with the lack of information available to voters that she started a blog specifically about the campaign and its candidates. She provided more investigative information than any of the traditional media outlets in town. However, not everyone trusted the blog because the author (fearful of retaliation and losing her job) wrote anonymously. So constituents were left with a conundrum. They can rely on traditional media -- a  source of information that should be trusted but is sometimes not able to provide the depth of information needed to make an informed decision. Or they could rely on detailed, timely information that has been thoroughly investigated but may not be entirely trustworthy because we don’t know anything about the author. Unfortunately, these were the options for voters during the campaign. Fortunately, our information reached enough voters that I was able to attend a victory party on election night. But when the next election comes around I’ll be prepared for a likely lack of campaign coverage. I also hope that our local anonymous blogger comes out of the closet and provides a legitimate source for residents to get the information they need to cast the next round of ballots.

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