August 03, 2004
Celebrities and Congresspeople

Big Media Matt, Zoe, and Ezra talk about the Kerrycentrism of the Democratic Convention, how the national media covers elections, and the triumph of celebrities over politics. (It's all connected, I promise!) There are two points in there that I want to touch on.

First, I don't expect national media to pay attention to anything but the Presidential election as a general rule. There will be exceptions - Arnoldmania, the occasional "scrappy underdog" and "national portent" races, that sort of thing - but not that many. It sure would be nice if they spent more time on non-Presidential politics, since thanks to our closely divided legislative chambers pretty much every halfway contested Senate and Congressional race has a much greater potential for impact on our lives than, say, Matt Hacking ever will, but you know the drill. It ain't gonna happen.

Where we should be seeing a lot more coverage of these races is in the local media. If the Houston Chronicle were your only information source, how much would you know about the Lampson/Poe and DeLay/Morrison races? How much would you know about any of the potentially tight State House races? Not a whole lot, that's for sure. The local Happy Talk TV News is even worse, while the other major papers aren't much better on their own local races. If not them, then who? And don't tell me that it's still summer, there's nothing happening yet. Primaries were in March, and every one of these candidates has been campaigning since at least January. Maybe if the media paid a little more attention, the public might, too.

If the Chronicle (just to pick on the local rag) wanted to serve the public better as well as establish themselves as a real online resource, there's a good model for them to use in covering local campaigns more thoroughly: blogs. Seriously. There's no law that says blogs have to be snarky commentary on consumed news and not original reporting, possibly done in a less-formal style. Surely among their cadre of political reporters, they attend a campaign event or two and receive a ton of campaign-related email every week. Why not write some of that stuff down in an easy-to-publish online format, add in some analysis and context, and then once a week or so collect it all for the dead-tree edition? There's even a highly qualified, well respected, unemployed political writer floating around that they could have tapped. Or, if they wanted to go all "edgy" on us, they could turn it over to a squadron of political consultants - say, Marc Campos and George Strong for the Ds, Allen Blakemore and the Waldens for the Rs - for a regular point/counterpoint free-for-all. A little imagination is all it takes to give us all a lot more than we're getting now.

As for the issue of celebritization of politics and the news, I suggest you read Heather Havrilesky on the subject of "humanizing" prepackaged commidities. It all makes sense to me now.

UPDATE: Greg puts on his Marketing cap and asks, quite reasonably, what effect this sort of enhanced online coverage might have on newspapers' subscription rates if they adopted my approach. My guess it would be minimal, but in any case there are two things which could ameliorate it. One would be enhanced revenue from the ads on their online version (simply, more readers/more desireable demographics among them = more $$), and two is that they could always require a subscription to access this kind of advanced coverage. It wouldn't be friendly of them to do this, and it would sort of defeat the greater-public-good purpose that I envision, but it wouldn't be out of bounds for them to do this, and as Greg notes, "The evolution will take relative baby steps". Which is why we push.

Posted by Charles Kuffner on August 03, 2004 to Election 2004 | TrackBack