From Chautauqua: What Your Campaign Needs to Know about "The News"
Candidates and policy advocates clamor to get their stories out. News organizations can fact check and retell those stories in unexpected ways.
Marty Baron, Executive Editor of the Washington Post, talked about how news organizations are changing how they cover politicians and policymakers in the age of Trump.
All 4,383 amphitheater seats were filled for Baron's talk at "Media and the News" week at Chautauqua Institution this week.
Baron and the lofty newsroom positions he's occupied have been at the center of major news stories in this country for decades.
(To put this in context, Baron's interview was preceded with a movie clip of Jason Robards as 1975's Washington Post Editor, Ben Bradlee, admonishing Watergate investigative reporters, "Wood-Stein", not to fuck up again or he'll get mad. That was followed by another clip from the movie "Spotlight" where Liv Schreiber as Marty Baron says to his reporters on his first day at the Boston Herald that they're going to sue the Catholic Church to investigate priests molesting children.)
Key points in Baron's talk follow:
Washington D.C. is disconnected.
"For much of my career I actually had no intention of going to Washington because every time I went to Washington for reporting, I found it largely disconnected from the rest of the country." This helps explain the dissatisfaction with Washington that Trump exploited during his campaign.
Trump continues to threaten the free press.
"The president has demonstrated a lot of disrespect for the role of the independent press...Trump has gone so far as to call for some journalists to be jailed."
Robust news organizations like WAPO and NYT will continue to hold politicians and policy advisors to account.
"Holding the weak accountable may be easier, but holding the strong accountable is more impactful. We have an absolute obligation to expose wrongdoing. The important thing, though is that someone who has as much power as Trump be regularly scrutinized, be they Republican, Democrat or Independent. If he's not telling the truth about something, we should say he's not telling the truth."
The media need to be more transparent about who they are and what they do. There is a precedent for a recovery of trust. The news business went through a similar period of mistrust during the Watergate era.
"There were many people who thought the investigation of President Nixon was wholly unjustified, wholly politically motivated. And ultimately they discovered that in fact there was a lot of merit to that investigation and the approval ratings for the press subsequent to Richard Nixon's resignation rose sharply."
Investigative reporting faces new challenges.
"Truth is the biggest challenge the media faces; more so than finances, or technology, or credibility or political attacks. Fundamentally, there has to be a baseline set of facts that people work from. And, right now we don't have that."
Local reporting has been decimated by industry downsizing.
We've lost 20,000 local newspaper/newsroom jobs in the last ten years. A lot of people in state government and local government, and in other powerful institutions are basically going uncovered. Nobody is watching them, and they know that. And, I think that is really concerning."
Storytelling has changed.
"The media has to dispose of the idea that...it's all about print. Journalism happens through phone and laptops more so than pulp and ink nowadays. And in that vein, the thing that must be acquired is new skills for storytelling in a digital age. When you interact with a mobile device, a phone, and you're reading your news, it's very different from opening up your newspaper in the morning over a cup of coffee. This changes the relationship between reader and written word, and thus between storyteller and story, too."
If you're listening to campaign advisors within the beltway, take heed. Baron's assertion that D.C. is disconnected is backed up by evidence. Congress has a 14% approval rating. The messaging coming out of D.C. spin shops has not reversed the forty year decline of Progressive Democrats' influence in this country.
If you're running for state office or advocating for local causes, don't expect much fact-checking from local news organizations. But, remember, character is about what you do when no one is looking. The media may get around to you. Eventually.
Campaigns can no longer count on local news media to promote and legitimize their stories. They are better advised to do so through social media and channels they own, such as websites, blogs, emails and speeches.
Long-form storytelling isn't going to work as well in the age of mobile media. The NPCRC can help you with short-form messaging that reliably escalates engagement with donors, volunteers and voters over time.