Friday, April 25, 2014

Lots of Journalists - Notes from the Alaska Press Club

I'm at the Alaska Press Club conference today.  Here are some session notes.  The first two sessions I really didn't get my computer out.  Consider this a sampling - just to give a sense of what's going on, but I won't get too much in depth.  I might be able to explore some of the larger issues that arise after the conference is over. 

Long-term Narratives
Preston Gannaway - Pulitzer Prize winner

It's hard to talk about this presentation - she's showing photos and talking about her approach.  She's showing a set of pictures about a woman who has terminal liver cancer - she documented their life living with this cancer.

Writing About Sexuality
Benoit Denizet-Lewis
Benoit Denizet-Lewis - New York times - Pulitzer Prize winner

I got into this one toward the end.  He was talking about using chatrooms to make connections with subgroups - he was writing about DL (down-low) gay men in one story. 
And young gays in school in another story.  Also on the complication of many of these issues and the difficulty of covering the issues well. 

Comprehensive Election Coverage   This one I took more notes, but there are also big gaps. 

Sonari Glinton, Jason DeRose, Ed Schoenfeld
Armen Keteyian seems to have gotten on the wrong plane and ended up in Canada

Experience you had working on elections
Sonari - Iowa, going to have rountable of typical Iowa voters.  Women said, I'm worried that Iowa will become a Sharia state.  I'm not real involved in issues, but this one just hit me.  Look, I'm a black man from Chicago and we're not going to talk about Obama being a Muslim.  Once I had been upfront about who I was, it seemed to give the others the freedom to be themselves and to be open.  Developed a really great relationship with them and we still are in contact.

DeRose:  Did you find that when you called her on the Sharia thing, I've heard people say that, did she really believe that or just repeating what she heard.

Glinton:  She was worried that Iowa would change, beyond recognition.  Probably not Sharia law.

DeRose:  As an editor I'm on the road that much.  In Colorado, people thought it was a swing state, at least how it was reported.  About ten days before the election.  Was in the 'swing' county - spent about 45 minutes driving around downtown.  About 3-1 ratio of Obama to Romney signs.  I couldn't find Romney stuff.  Thought, if this is the swingiest county, I don't think Colorado is a swing state.  I think people push the idea - it helps turnout.  They probably knew Obama would take Colorado.  In retrospect, it was never a swing state.  There was no ground game for the Romney side.  You need to do ground level work.  Just driving up and down the downtown streets you can get a sense. 

Glinton - I saw a similar thing in Ohio - that Obama folks were 3-1 on the ground compared to Romney.

DeRose:  Wonder whether national news orgs play up the tightness of the race to keep their audience following it.   We had great ratings because the Obama-Clinton primary race was so close.  Through the roof ratings.  And that might lead other news orgs to play that up when they aren't close.

Schoenfeld, Jason DeRose, Sonari Glinton
Glinton - I feel like polls work.  I've never been to an election where we had people at the wrong spot.  

Schoenfeld:  Fair v Balance - covering a local election, Mayor, School Board, and you know, some of the candidates have no chance of winning.  One person has it together and the other just jumped into the race and isn't prepared.  How do you deal with that, when you know one isn't a serious candidate?

Glinton:  Guy in Illinois always run - genuine nut - but gets 7 or 8%.  Doesn't get invited to the debates.  If 2 candidates, to a reasonable extent you need to cover people that have some chance.  Guy at 35% might have some chance.  Just because no Republican mayor in Chicago since 1939, you still have to recover the Republican.  Barry Goldwater had no chance of winning, but shaped 50 years of politics.  Ross Perot, Ralph Nader, their ideas had a lot of sway on the election.

DeRose:  If his one issue resonates with the 5% and might make the difference if the others are both at 45%.  Journalists are constantly making decisions on what is important and not important.  We're supposed to use our good judgment.  Is this person an idiot?  Then don't put him on the air.  Something in the culture says unless we make it 50%/50% bad, we aren't just shoveling unedited press releases.  It's ok to say that 8 people are on the ballot, but only two are viable.  I'll mention them all, but only do detailed reports on the two key ones.  We aren't just "he says, she says" reporters.  We need to use our as objective as possible judgment to clarify things, use analysis.

You can describe someone's strange affiliation and even if you don't want to say it yourself, you can find someone who will say what you'd like to say.

Using your own judgment is the hard way.  50%/50% balanced is the easy way out.

Q:  Told by my general manager not to bring up personal life.

DeRose:  Part of your job is to bring up those associations.  Ask in the interview.  Extremely pertinent.

Glinton:  Working with Ira Glass on a story, real awakening question from him:  "Oh, I see, you want those people to like/respect you."  You can't be a journalist if you want people to like you.  But, when people see you have integrity, people will respect you.  Oh, people like you because you stab them in the gut.

DeRose:  I covered religion in Chicago and was raised by a particular denomination and I thought the press person would feel comfortable.  Much later he said we were scared shitless because you knew where the bodies were buried.
I don't go to a citizen surgeon to remove my gall-bladder, and I don't go to a citizen-journalist to get my news.

Glinton:  They layoff journalists, but not PR people.
DeRose:  And the journalists who get laid off become PR people and get paid ten times as much.  And then they know how we work and how to counter what we do working for a firm or a politician.

Q:  Some tips?  Never covered elections, not really interested, are there things I need to cover?

Glinton:  Three books:  Boss by Royko,  ?? at Tammany Hall,  Give an idea of political theory and how politics are thinking and about local politics.

DeRose:   and Political Fiction by Joan Didion,  ???  Reporting on her experience of reporting as well as on the race.  It was so not what she was expecting it to be.
Key biographies:

Glinton:  In Iowa I wasn't covering candidates, I was covering issues.
DeRose;  Before candidates start talking, ask people what the issues are.  Go to Chamber of Commerce, PTA, say ten groups, and find out what the issues are.

Schoenfeld:  Moving to other issues.  National organizations besides political parties, like the Koch Brothers, who generate legislation, come up with issues to target a particular demographic and target a candidate.  I see legislation each year that I know came from this or that particular group.  How to monitor this?

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