Both Jay Rosen and citizens of Ohio, appropriately dubbed Ohioans, share a fair point of changing the model for journalists and campaign coverage in elections. Their ideas revolve around cultivating the information spread and setting the narrative for what questions will be asked, answered and covered. The key element? Knowing your audience and what they want to hear.
Rosen details his problems with the traditional style of campaign coverage as the “horse race style” because of the lack of valuable information being covered or helping the voters. If journalists were to simply track who’s ahead in the polls or attempt to predict the winner or outcome of a race, it wouldn’t be much of a public service to the people. According to Rosen, the alternative style of the “citizens agenda” approach is much more suitable to serving the public with the information viable to assisting citizens in casting their votes. The first step of this model is to identify who your community is and to understand how to reach them. Once you can do that you can pose the question, “What do you want candidates to be discussing as they compete for votes?” The key is to use this question in every form or forum possible, whether that be interviews with reporters, speaking at events, commenting on facebook pages, etc. When you gear the campaign press on the side of the voters, it gives the people more power to have their concerns answered by those looking to seek power in office. If reporters ask the right questions and listen well to the public’s answers then a more broadened knowledge of candidates will be covered.
About 50 news organizations set out this summer to explore what Ohioans say their communities need to improve vibrancy, in the Your Voice Ohio series. Meetings were held where journalists sat with people in various towns and cities to discuss local challenges and possible solutions to the worsening economic state of Ohio. While attendance was slim in some meetings, the conversations became more consistent with larger cities and communities. Ohioans were asked “What makes a vibrant community?” In addition, they were asked to list community strengths that could be put to use, as well as the major needs of the area. Your Voice Ohio held 14 meetings to discuss the opioid epidemic and had nearly 1,000 people respond with solutions. A reporter found that when people came together to celebrate community success with honest conversation, many people agreed on the topic or solutions to issues being presented.
In order to gauge how well the citizen agenda is working versus the campaign agenda, you can see how closely candidates are aligning with the voters’ concerns. Reporters will ask questions drawn from the citizens agenda to gear candidates toward the questions their community wants answered. After all, “synthesizing a citizens agenda at the beginning creates a mission statement for your campaign coverage later on.”
I would like to see more implementation of the citizens agenda in our immediate news and campaign coverage. I think that politics and important issues are becoming more diluted in today’s day and age. Although horse race coverage is exciting and often times glamorizing for certain candidates, I firmly believe we would have better options on the panel if candidates were forced, or coerced rather, into speaking directly on what the public wants to know. That, of course, begins with the public. Journalists can only “win” at their job if they are reporting on an accurate campaign agenda-one that needs to be set by the voters themselves. If the public refuses to participate in open, honest discussion and allow their voices to be heard, campaign journalists will never satisfy their needs entirely.