Monday, February 23, 2009

Opinion: Our Local Media is Killing Our Democracy

The election for the 20th Congressional District is about 40 days away. Three candidates have announced. Our local news is ignoring one of them – it’s as simple as that – and now they’ve been so brazen as to tell us why.

NCPR’s political reporter Brian Mann ran a story entitled “Lightning-fast 20th race pits experienced Republican against a fresh-faced Democrat” – no mention of the other candidate, or links to his website, although the other two are linked. Then he told us on his blog:

My job is to reflect reality in my stories. So I will be covering Mr. Sundwall, though I’ll generally treat him as an “issue” or a “protest” candidate. How much coverage he receives will depend on a) how interesting, thoughtful and compelling he turns out to be; and b) the degree to which his ideas influence the campaign debate.

The Glens Falls Post Star‘s managing editor Ken Tingley posted to his blog this week that “With two new candidates from last fall’s election, we want give our readers a chance to get to know the candidates. We are planning on doing personality profiles on each of the candidates.”

When it was pointed out to Tingley that there were three candidates, not two, he replied:

Right now there are only two candidates on the ballot. If a third candidate makes the ballot that has a legitimate chance or seems like an interesting candidate, we would always consider doing a profile on them as well.

Tingley went on to say that talking about a conspiracy against third-part candidates is “ridiculous” and “hard to take… seriously.”

So there you have it – plain and simple bias. Two local media figures – one using public owned airwaves – who are defining who our candidates are, and are not.

The reasons this is bad are laid out at the blogs I’ve pointed to fairly succinctly (and here at MoFYC), but I guess there’s a need to say it one more time.

– There are three candidates right now, not two. If Eric Sundwall fails to get on the ballot, then there will be two candidates.

– The third candidate has more history in politics then the Democratic candidate. He also lives in the District – the Republican candidate does not.

– It’s ass-backwards to say a candidate doesn’t have a chance in winning and then use that statement as a reason to exclude them from coverage. If our local media only covered Sundwall favorably and the others unfavorably – he would probably win, particularly in this political climate.

– The idea that people aren’t interested in third party candidates is wrong, according to a Zogby poll. It is also patently ridiculous and not the basis for media reports. How many articles in the local news are of direct interest to only a few readers/watchers/listeners? Why is reporting the bridge results more important that a candidate for the 20th CD?

Finally, just so we’re clear that what these folks are doing is unethical political bigotry, I’ll excerpt the Society of Professional Journalists’ Code of Ethics, which tells journalists to:

– Tell the story of the diversity and magnitude of the human experience boldly, even when it is unpopular to do so.

– Examine your own cultural values and avoid imposing those values on others.

– Avoid stereotyping by… social status.

– Support the open exchange of views, even views you find repugnant.

– Give voice to the voiceless; official and unofficial sources of information can be equally valid.

It’s not a lot for citizens to ask.

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John Warren

John Warren has been exploring the woods and waters of the Adirondacks for almost 50 years. After a career as a print journalist and documentary television producer he founded Adirondack Almanack in 2005 and co-founded the geolocation services company Adirondack Atlas in 2015.

John remains active in traditional media. His Adirondack Outdoors Conditions Report can be heard Friday mornings across the region on the stations of North Country Public Radio and on 93.3 / 102.1 The Mix. Since 2008, John has been a media specialist on the staff of the New York State Writers Institute.

John is also a professional researcher and historian with a M.A. in Public History. He edits The New York History Blog and is the author of two books of regional history. As a Grant Consultant for the William G. Pomeroy Foundation, he has reviewed hundreds of historic roadside marker grant applications from around New York State for historical accuracy.

8 Responses

  1. Eric Sundwall says:

Wait, before you go,

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