Election 2012: Panelists Say Reporting Key in Covering Elections, Regardless of Medium

By Angelica Robinson and Josclynn Brandon
The Red Line Project

Posted: Thursday, Oct. 11, 2012

How important is the role of media in helping voters elect a presidential candidate?

A panel featuring some of Chicago’s top journalists and DePaul University’s political experts addressed that question on Wednesday night at an event moderated by Andy Shaw of the Better Government Association.

It was part of the Carlos Hernandez Gomez Memorial Forum on Politics and Public Service series. Gomez was a DePaul alum who worked in the Chicago media.
Dave Lundy, president of Aileron Communications, a strategic communications firm in Chicago, said the mainstream media is no longer just TV, radio and print.

"The elephant in the room that everyone has to discuss is social media," said Randi Belisomo of WGN. "We get so much information from the Internet, which is not filtered through the media."

Lundy said there is more relevant content available on political issues today than there has ever been. The difference is that now is that consumers can choose what information they would like to receive.
“What is extremely depressing as someone who cares an awful lot about policy as well as politics is what I characterize as the death of facts,” Lundy said.

According to Lundy and several other panelists, many news outlets lack substance in a newscast. Too often, news outlets are using social media to determine what is most popular and incorporating that into news headlines.

Digital media outlets like Twitter and FaceBook are not entirely to blame though. According to veteran journalist and DePaul adjunct journalism professor Mike Conklin, traditional news mediums like broadcast, print, and radio, should be held accountable for delivering relevant information on the issues.
"What I would like to see is for people to stop treating politics like a football game," he said. "There's very little in-depth reporting at all."
Michael Mezey, a DePaul professor in the department of Political Science, agreed with Conklin.
"The coverage of politics and the election is like ESPN meets Entertainment Tonight," Mezey said. "It's more on the horse race, not the issues."
Wayne Steger, professor of Political Science at DePaul, isn’t as concerned with social media or the blogosphere's impact on news content. He believes the content discussed on social media is usually taken from mainstream news outlets.
"I'm not sure the social media operates without the mainstream media," Steger said.
Perhaps the reason behind the lack of substance in news reports is a lack of concern among citizens, Steger added. Both Steger and Mezey agreed that most consumers of news aren't paying attention to real politics. Instead, they tune in to sensationalized stories.

"If you ask a people what they remember from last week's debate, I think the answer would be the Big Bird response," Mezey said. "It's the sensational type of thing which grabs people's attention."
The danger of this is that the uninformed public becomes susceptible to misinformation. The average person is not watching media enough to see watchdogs and fact checkers, Steger said. Therefore, voters can be easily swayed by a single event rather than where a candidate actually stands on the issues, he warned.

"If people aren't paying attention they can't be skeptical about what is going on," Steger said. "They can't call out a politician when they change their position."

Steger said he feels people want to hear information consistent with their own beliefs. Politicians are willing to tell people what they want to hear and people latch on to it,  he said.
Therefore, Shaw said,  it is the job of the media to really dig and find out about the candidates, regardless of the type of media -- mainstream, digital or online.

"Media has one amazing power ... and that's the power to find out something that no one has ever heard [and] change the course of a campaign," Shaw said. "The biggest thing we can do is is to find really important things that re-frame issues and perceptions."

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