Covering the 2014 election has been fulfilling and entertaining. It’s also been very “clubby.” I can count on seeing the same reporters from WSB and the AJC at most events that I cover, with occasional visits from WABE and GPB radio. I almost never see reporters from WAGA or WGCL.
I can understand why news managers might decide to pass on politics. Specifically, audience research tends to show that political coverage isn’t much of a crowd-pleaser. I suspect that TV viewers are so annoyed by political commercials that they don’t want to see another layer of their least-favorite pols taking up valuable dog-rescue space on the local news.
I’m very grateful that my two supervisors, Ellen Crooke and Matt King, have opted to interpret that research within the framework of a TV newsroom’s traditional responsibilities to ask reasonable questions of those seeking positions of power.
My moments covering politics have included some pretty great highlights, including but not limited to
- Spotting the image of WXIA photog Mike Zakel looming ominously in an anti-Jason Carter Republican Governors Association ad;
- Spotting my cast-covered right wrist holding a mic in another anti-Carter ad (my still-broken wrist is improving, thanks);
- Taking my mom, who is visiting from California and took me to my first political rally as a ten-year old, to the debates at the fairgrounds in Perry. (We watched 5-7 year olds competitively ride sheep beforehand.)
- Abundant emails in my inbox from candidates and their surrogates that aggressively suggest stories about why the other guy sucks;
- Suggesting (and getting) a do-over from a candidate who awkwardly walked away in the middle of a contentious Q&A;
- Getting that candidate to subsequently vow to never again walk away in the middle of a press scrum;
- Getting a grammatically incorrect emailed statement from a candidate’s PR person — which I ran as-is when the publicist declined my suggestion to correct the grammar;
- Watching two lesser-known statewide candidates crash a Jason Carter press conference;
- Watching “women for Michelle Nunn” and “women for Nathan Deal” events get crashed by women backing their opponents;
- Getting accused (incorrectly) by the staff of one candidate of attending a fundraiser for that candidate’s opponent;
- Nearly getting Rep. Jack Kingston to play on my over-45 old-guy baseball team;
- Seeing a retired WAGA assignment editor, Tammy Lloyd Clabby, at a Women for Nunn rally, decrying salary inequality in the news business.
As with much of our business, there is a sometimes tense, often amusing love-hate relationship candidates and their staff have with the news media. Campaigns will occasionally issue press releases citing some story I’ve done (or the AJC or WSB) as proof positive of why their opponent isn’t fit to breathe the air of the Peach State, much less run for office. Conversely, the same campaigns are quick to bust out text messages or emails squawking about a perfectly reasonable story that they wish I’d handled differently or overlooked completely.
The adjacent text message exchange exemplifies it perfectly. The text writer (we’ll call him “Brian,” the publicist for a GOP incumbent seeking re-election) had clobbered me for a story I’d done a few days earlier, then subsequently offered a hint of praise for another story. This prompted me to ask him, tongue in cheek, to “make up your mind” about whether I was a right- or left-wing stooge.
His answer resulted in a genuine out-loud guffaw. (He also agreed to let me post it here, knowing that you’d probably figure out who “Brian” is.)
Point being: Those news entities that have sidestepped covering politics should maybe reconsider. Lord knows, the campaigns are filling the coffers of their TV stations with cash from sweet, sweet political advertising. One could argue that their viewers deserve a chance to see those people in a real-world context, answering questions posed by genuine newsm’n and women.
Plus, they’d further distract the already-overworked staffs of the candidates, perhaps divert their affection and ire, and add to an already gloriously-confused story.