Denver reporters say 2012 presidential race drowned out coverage of local races

( – promoted by Colorado Pols)

During a panel discussion today on local coverage of the 2012 election, journalists said the presidential election, as it played out in Colorado, consumed so much of their time that they were unable to give proper attention to other important Colorado races, including congressional campaigns.

“The presidential just drowns out everything else,” said CBS4 Political Specialist Shaun Boyd. “I did cover the local stuff, but it’s hard to do that when you’ve got so much going on with the presidential race, and that’s what so many people are focused on.”

“TV is broadcasting, and the word ‘broad’ is real, ” added Fox 31 Political Reporter Eli Stokols. “If we think about what people are most interested in, it’s what they’re already hearing about, the presidential stuff. It’s hard for us to cover congressional races in much detail.

Colorado Public Radio reporter Megan Verlee told the audience of about 30 people at the Independence Institute that her station tries to explain why other races matter.

“If you’re covering the CD-7 race, most of your listeners aren’t in CD-7 , they’re wondering, ‘Why do I care about Coors and Perlmutter?'” Verlee said. “And then if you’re covering a State House race, the vast, vast majority of your listeners are not in that area. We were running stories reminding people why it matters who controls the Legislature next time. So if you’re uncomfortable with legal recognition for gay unions, and you’re Republican, you might want to get out and help your candidate. If you want civil unions, and you’re a Democrat, you might want to go out and help your candidate. There were things we could say–‘This is why you need to pay attention to your local races.’ And we actually interviewed Ernest Luning from the Statesman who was doing really great coverage of the State House races and we linked to his website.”

Twitter’s Impact

All four reporters on the panel, which was moderated by Diane Carman, Communications Director for the University of Colorado Denver’s School of Public Affairs, said Twitter has had a major impact on their reporting, and they expect this to continue.

“Twitter allows you to be in different places at once,” said Associated Press reporter Ivan Moreno. “It can be a huge distraction, but it’s a huge benefit. I could not live without it as a reporter.

“It makes us into a team,” said Verlee, agreeing with Moreno. “Nobody could be everywhere at once. It makes reporters from competing outlets each other’s eyes and ears.”

“I saw a couple times this year where [a story] wouldn’t have been such a big deal on our station had it not blown up on Twitter,” said CBS4’s Shaun Boyd.

Boyd cited her interview with Mitt Romney, whose staff told Boyd not to ask questions about abortion issues. Boyd and others at CBS4 didn’t think much of this, because preconditions to interviews are not unheard of, she said.

“When that went up on Twitter, I was stunned,” Boyd said. “I was hauled into the news director’s office. And the head of communications for Romney’s campaign was on the phone. And suddenly I have to totally change how I’m telling this story. I mean, [the precondition] becomes the story. And I felt that the only reason it became the story that day was because it blew up on Twitter.”

Partisan Pressure

None of the journalists on the panel, which would have included The Denver Post’s Politics Editor Chuck Plunkett, had he not gotten sick this morning, claimed to be influenced much by angry partisans who think journalists are biased.

“You know what’s funny, it’s gotten to a point where people get angry and see things as biased, it doesn’t impact me at all,” said Stokols. “The person it impacts, is the person leveling that charge. What that is, writ large, is a certain type of person, and they exist on both sides, who doesn’t want to live outside of that bubble, that idea bubble, that thought bubble, [because] it doesn’t fit the way they see the world. It’s a biased reporter. It’s a skewed poll. It’s dismissed. You can only insulate yourself from reality for so long.”

“If you look at the news that makes you uncomfortable, it will make you more effective, whether you are a campaign or volunteer,” he said. “If you just look at the stuff you like to digest, then the rude awakening is not far away.”

Journalists’ Bias

All four journalists on the panel, which was jointly sponsored by the Independence Institute, the University of Colorado Denver’s School of Public Affairs, and my own, rejected the notion, presented by an audience member, that journalists should state their biases openly, rather than act as if they have no opinions, and strive to be fair and accurate, as expected according to modern standards of professional journalism.

“If you are involved in a court case, and you go before a judge, and you know all of his biases, which everyone has, but you then realize they are unfavorable to you, you would have the perception that you would get an unfair trial,” said AP’s Moreno. “I think it’s the same with journalism. With us, it’s not that we don’t have personal opinions, but I think we need to be objective and maintain public trust. If we expressed our opinions, people would question, much more so, our facts that we report and our objectivity.”

11 Community Comments, Facebook Comments

  1. PolitiComm says:

    There are many different types of bias. I think the keyword in this post is “modern.” The reason I say that is that we live in a post-modern world, not a modern one. With the advent of social media our attitudes as both media generators and media consumers have changed. I’ll pose a hypothetical thought experiment on this notion of “fair and balanced” reporting.

    If a candidate for office says that the sky is pink and 150 Million people believe it, is the sky then pink? What if, as a reporter, one political candidate says the sky is pink and I quote him, but another political candidate says the sky is blue and I quote him. According to “modern standards” of professional journalism I’m being fair and balanced. But as a journalist, I also have an obligation to report the facts–not just what audiences or even I want to believe. If I don’t point out that the sky is, in fact, blue then I’m demonstrating both a selection and confirmation bias that half of my audience won’t recognize, but the other half will.

    If, as a reporter, I truly believe that the sky is pink and therefore may not recognize my own bias don’t I, at least, have an obligation to check myself by stating which party I agree with?

    • PolitiComm says:

      …is fine. The problem is that objectivity, like equality, is not necessarily a reality. I think Ivan’s analogy of a judge is a great example. Judges like to see themselves as objective. Ignoring the obvious bias in that self-deterministic identity, let’s say they truly are unbiased. We have to acknowledge that they also inhabit a system that somehow selects, prosecutes, judges and incarcerates a prison population that is 70% people of color compared against a population that is approximately 33.5% people of color. There is very little evidence to suggest that people of color commit crime at twice the rate of whites.

      Is the result fair? Does claiming judicial “objectivity” even if you, yourself, are objective make it “fair and balanced?”

      The point is that, whether judge or journalist, don’t we all have an obligation to explore the root and result of societal power biases?

    • ScottP says:

      Your reporter’s article should say something like, “Candidate A said the sky is pink. Candidate B said the sky is blue. Information from a reputable research group says that the sky is…”

      Finding a reputable research group when it comes to political topics seems to be hard to do anymore. The shill groups are louder than the reputable groups and they get used by shill reporters too much.

      Either way, the reporter’s opinion shouldn’t matter.

      • PolitiComm says:

        …that the reporter’s opinion plays in even if the reporter doesn’t know it. You made the point for me when you said “The shill groups are louder than the reputable groups and get used by…reporters too much.”

        It’s called selection bias.

  2. harrydobyharrydoby says:

    … A good attorney will have a much better chance of winning their case.

    Objectivity in a reporter’s efforts is laudable. But masking one’s biases in a cloak of pseudo-objectivity is the underlying concern expressed by the audience member.

    I find that even if bias isn’t obvious in the reporting, the lack of background context to support the facts, or more often, opinions of the people being reported leaves readers with insufficient information to really know the whole truth.

    I’ll read about a particular topic on several sites and then read the same topic in the Denver Post.   The frequent lack of context (error of omission) by the Post is highly disconcerting to me.  

    Yes, we live in a short- attention span society.  But a few extra sentences immediately surrounding an assertion in support of, or an expert casting doubt upon, that assertion wouldn’t put the paper out of business.

    Here are a few more thoughts on the matter:

  3. parsingreality says:

    And deep, fiery red, and bits of blue fading…..if you are lucky enough to be watching a sunset over the Rockies.

    I remember a sunset so stunning coming back to Boulder on the RTD I ached just to look at it.  I wrote in my journal that night “It was like finding a goddess, naked, but knowing can’t ever have her.”

    People think the sunsets in Florida, here on the west coast are awesome.  Some are pretty good, most are very nice.  But I’ve never seen one to compare with that evening in Colorado.  

    • PolitiComm says:

      Why can’t a reporter simply state that the sky appeared to be pink?

      I want to make it clear that I don’t fault reporters for their ethics or even their biases. I sure as heck don’t fault them for their pursuit of objectivity. But the FACT is that subjectivity is part of the human condition. Nobody can remove themselves from the context in which they’re reporting.

      So why try? Why pretend to be an automaton when nothing could be further from the truth?

      I understand the practicalities of journalism prevent a reporter from listing his or her biases in every report, but I don’t think that should prevent some editorial profiling of reporters either. As news consumers we should know who our reporters are, where they come from and what interests them about their beat. Etc., etc.  There are many ways to handle that from an editorial standpoint and its ridiculous that post-modern news organizations can’t figure out that the social distrust of the mainstream media is, to some extent, related to the fact that a claim of objectivity is a bias in itself.  

  4. BlueCat says:

    It doesn’t take much to drown out coverage of local races.  Most people don’t pay attention and most of the local broadcast media, even during midterms, avoids more than the most brief and cursory coverage of local politics like the plague. OK, we mentioned some of that stuff that will get half of our viewers pissed off. Quick! Here’s footage of that giant sinkhole in Mississippi and look who’s winning on Dancing with the Stars! God forbid they should give us regular coverage of what our state legislators are up to or how our congressional delegation is voting. There’s always a giant sinkhole somewhere and, sadly, they’re right about what will get them decent ratings.

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