DemCast Dot Answers: Why is there so much news coverage of the primary instead of the news that matters most?

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9 mins read
Graphic by Marcie.

Do you feel like a blue dot in a sea of red hats? Want to know how to get involved and make a difference? Ask DemCast Dot!

As a continuing feature on DemCast, our very own DemCast Blue Dot answers questions from blue dots spread far and wide across the United States. Questions are gathered from DemCast readers and may be edited for length and clarity (or spelling and grammar if the case may be).


Dear DemCast Dot,

Is it just me or does it seem like the national press is paying more attention to the Democratic primary than the big important stuff? Like that the Florida legislature is passing scary bills and DOJ prosecutors are resigning in protest? What is going on? Is there anything we can do to encourage more coverage of what really matters?

Signed,
Media Manic in Malabar, FL

Dear Manic in Malabar,

To quote a song that was before its time, “What we’ve got here is a failure to communicate.”

As Jay Rosen noted on election day in 2018, the American press could and should be taking a completely different approach to campaign coverage than it has.

One of the problems with the current style of coverage, in addition to the fact too many outlets spend exponentially more time on it than investigative journalism into government corruption, is that even if journalists could predict winners it really would provide no real public service.

In 1992, the The Observer in Charlotte, NC joined with the Poynter Institute to explore a different way that came to be known as the “citizens agenda” form of campaign coverage. The idea was simply that coverage should be grounded in what news consumers want candidates to talk about. 

This model revolves around the power of one single question asked of readers/viewers/voters: “What do you want the candidates to be discussing?”

Not “Who is going to win?” Not “Who are you going to vote for?” Not “Who is ahead today?’

The whole purpose of the citizens agenda is to find an alternative to the current horse race coverage focused only on the status of the race, polls and keys to winning (like “electability narratives”).

Why do media outlets keep using the Horserace model? Because it’s simple and easy to repeat year after year.

The citizens agenda instead works to meet the assumed mission of good journalists: to identify and inform their audience, the public.

“What do you want the candidates to be discussing as they compete for votes?” 

Rosen says the key is to pose this question in every possible form and forum from interviews to focus groups, events to contact forms and social media. He also notes that media polling budgets should be redirected away from the horserace and toward surveying reader/viewers answer to that one simple question. 

The product is a ranked list of priorities identifying the top 8-10 issues or problems that voters most want the candidates to be talking about. The citizens agenda is an exercise in high quality public listening and a template for covering the rest of a campaign.

The citizens agenda approach in campaign coverage tells reporters, editors and producers how they’re doing because candidates will have to start talking about the items on that agenda. That’s an actual public service.

In many ways, conscious and unconscious, I would posit that this is what many journalists use social media for to a degree. It is why Twitter is so important to shaping news coverage. And, it may well be key to how we can help.

“What do you want the media to be covering?”

Ever notice that under almost every local and major media news article or report posted to Facebook or Twitter there seem to be an inordinately large number of commenters of a certain political persuasion? Like most normal people, you probably gave up reading the comments years ago because of the cess pool they’ve become. Maybe you share an article to your own account to be seen by friends, but likely you don’t actually reply to the news organization or journalist who posted it.

Know who does still reply and interact with journalists and therefore shape their understanding of what the public is most interested in hearing more about?

“Black PR” campaign agents, sock puppet bad actors, foreign and domestic bots, and now also Trump campaign volunteers the RNC has paid to train to use social media to shape online conversations and media coverage are still in those comments. They are all still there on Facebook and Twitter telling reporters what issues they care about and thus shaping news coverage.

See a reputable story about the administration’s breach of ethics, norms or law? 

  • Share it from the publisher’s social media account. Comment on it.
  • Let the media know you prefer investigative journalism over horserace coverage about the latest primary poll.
  • Amplify the work of reputable investigative journalists and reward public service reporting.
  • Amplify verified candidates, elected officials and grassroots activists who are calling out local politicians and issues by following and sharing their work as well.

Afraid you’ll fall into the black hole of Twitter or be attacked by trolls? Not sure how to find reputable local activists’ work to promote?

Not to sound too sales-pitchy, but joining DemCast really can help.

In an era where political disinformation has flooded the zone and drowned out the voices of the people who want to know what is really going on and how to help, our mission is to cultivate, amplify & maximize the impact of grassroots digital media, bolstering blue electoral and policy victories at all levels of government, across America.

We are just regular citizens building our own all volunteer digital army to fight back against the nefarious voices online to move the country back towards a civil, fact-based and grassroots-led conversation, where digital tools and social platforms are harnessed to maximize connectivity, coordination and impact.

Join your DemCast State Leadership Team. Amplify with us. Write for us. Partner with us. 

Help us change the online conversation so that the important stories that need to be told will be. Help provide the mainstream media with a ready made citizens agenda list of topics we are more interested in hearing about than the same old horserace distractions.

Pitch over.

It is going to take all of us working together to shine a light on the issues that really matter. You’ve identified the problem. Rather than wallow in it, get busy doing something about it!

Your Truly,
Demcast Dot

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DemCast is an advocacy-based 501(c)4 nonprofit. We have made the decision to build a media site free of outside influence. There are no ads. We do not get paid for clicks. If you appreciate our content, please consider a small monthly donation.


The DemCast Dot column is penned weekly by an occasionally cranky suburban mom and writer living in a Florida red district. To submit your questions or ideas for future columns, email DemCastDottie@gmail.com. All submissions may be published as received.

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