Social media and the evolving news coverage of political campaigns: a love storyPosted: September 24, 2011
By Keith Llado
With the approach of the 2012 presidential elections and the already strong fervor surrounding political candidates competing for the office, media experts, journalists, politicians, and political scientists alike are examining how social media and civic journalism is redefining news coverage of the candidates’ campaigns and the electoral race overall.
According to a report published in the American Journalism Review (AJR), there are pros and cons to the various consequences of new media’s effects on political campaign coverage. Jodi Edna reports that the upcoming 2012 election will not be covered primarily by journalists, in the traditional definition of the word, but rather independent agents, such as bloggers, campaign “trackers,” partisan supporters and opponents, and the everyday American voter via the Internet.
In addition to an enormous shift in campaign coverage from traditional media reporters, who follow the intimate details of a campaign and its candidate from beginning to end, to public journalistic practices, the ways political candidates are choosing to reach voters is rapidly evolving as well. Politicians are beginning to seek more face time with the voters and the American public directly by way of social media outlets and blogging sites rather than relying on journalists to report the campaign news to the people.
Roger Simon, Politico’s chief political columnist, Edna reports, “… recalls how his access to candidates has declined, bit by bit, during the course of covering 10 presidential races, for several news outlets, starting in 1976.”
Candidates are no longer interested in “rubbing shoulders” with journalists since they have discovered new and innovative ways to broadcast their campaigns without having to go through a “middle-man,” giving the politician complete control over his or her own political and social image. Furthermore, candidates are simply apprehensive to deal with journalists. As Simon said, “The smallest slip can destroy a candidacy.”
Are these things, then, good or bad for the traditional reporters and news media outlets? Many journalists argue the major pro of the new wave of civic journalism is its contribution to a news outlet’s ability to increase its media convergence, becoming more relevant and informative. With all the user-generated content floating about, media organizations can link their stories to user-generated video, audio, and other informational links to make their story more impressionable.
To the contrary, many argue that this form of “rapid-fire” journalism produced through social media, such as Twitter, is obscuring the finer details and nuances of campaigns; reducing news coverage of the elections to brief, basic tidbits of information, most of which may not even be relevant to the candidate’s political policy, agenda, or plans regarding the campaign—robbing the story of the details that may truly inform and distinguish candidates from one another for voters.
“We’re much more likely this cycle to have covered in detail the medication [Republican presidential candidate] Michele Bachmann takes for her headaches than the policy ideas that are coming out of her mouth,” says Susan Page, Washington bureau chief for USA Today.
Is the evolution of news coverage of presidential/political campaigns a good or bad thing for traditional journalists and news organizations? In the modern world of constant free-flowing information, is there any way to uphold the traditional standards of journalism—timeliness, objectivity, etc.—without sacrificing the journalistic accuracy of a story?