Friday, September 21, 2012

Political panel discusses coverage, social media strategy

~Written by Becca Andrews

With the 2012 APME conference winding down, there is one issue at the forefront of every newsroom this fall– the 2012 presidential election.

Addressing the coverage of the election were panelists Chuck Babington of The Associated Press, Sergio Bustos of The Miami Herald, Liz Sidoti of The Associated Press, and Joe Vardon of The Columbus Dispatch. Mindy Marques, executive editor of The Miami Herald, served as the moderator.

Remaining in the theme of Social Media Friday, the panelists debated the pros and cons of the use of social media by reporters, the candidates and their campaign teams.

The conversations happening on Twitter can control the narrative and define stories now, but reporters should be careful not to be manipulated by the candidates and their followers, as far as prioritizing coverage, Sidoti said.

“They’re talking to us, trying to influence what we write,” Sidoti said.

Varden said that Twitter is a “brilliant thing” because politicians tend to make highly-debated faux pas on the site that lead into stories, but he also cautioned attendees on the dangers of tweeting.

“Reporters are people too and can also say some dumb things,” Varden said.

The hyper-local focus that many newspapers try to keep up to serve their communities will not be as effective in the coming months with regards to the race.

“We’re such a national community, and the news media is national,” Babington said. “Social scientists have concluded it’s really the national story that persuades people.”

Panelists also talked about the effects of political advertising and how they see the election shaping up over the next couple months.

“If you’re wondering if this election is going to be close, the answer is ‘yes,’” Bustos said.

Political advertisements are also holding voters’ attention, and politicians are spending money to gain votes and influence opinions.

“They wouldn’t be spending the money if it wasn’t effective,” Bustos said. “When you talk to the real voters, they are echoing what they heard in an ad.”

The conversation eventually shifted to public opinion of the reliability of the media. A recent Gallup poll showed 60 percent of Americans have no trust in the media to report accurately and fairly, and only 39 percent are paying close attention to the upcoming election.

The panel agreed that the ultimate goal is to do our job and to do it well.

“Our main M.O., our main goal in restoring confidence is let’s go back to the basics,” Sidoti said. “Let’s go back to what made us credible in the voters’ eyes to begin with– precision, accuracy, swiftness.”

Bustos echoed Sidoti, and said the focus should remain on the constituents.

“Our editor used to say, ‘We gotta get out and talk to some voters,’” Bustos said. “If you listen well enough, you always get a story.”

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