News coverage of elections is often criticized for focusing too much on the horse race aspect and too little on the real issues. This horse race journalism, although it has its positives, does not serve to educate audiences about their candidates. McClatchy, a company with 30 different media companies in various states, is looking to change the nature of their election coverage for the upcoming midterms.
McClatchy’s three new initiatives – “The Influencer Series,” “Ground Game” and “Beto” – will launch later this season. Each editorial initiative features new tactics to increase the accessibility and relevance of election reporting to the everyday people of America; not just those of us dubbed by McClatchy as “political obsessives.”
The first of the new releases, “The Influencer Series,” will focus on “policy issues important to voters and critical to the future of their states,” according to the press release from earlier this month. “The Influencer Series” will survey leaders of education, faith, business, sports, entertainment and more across California, Florida, Missouri and North Carolina about the policies most salient within those communities.
Over 200 leaders have currently agreed to participate in McClatchy’s surveys. Readers can expect the first articles in the series to be published on June 18th, followed by bimonthly publishes until Labor Day, upon which McClatchy publications will have weekly “Influencer” updates.
The “Influencer Series” has one more unique feature: readers will be able to interact with it. The “Your Voice” component of this initiative allows readers to provide their own input on what policy issues are most important to their communities and allows journalists to respond to them. In this way, McClatchy alters the normal editorial process by giving their readers a seat at the table.
Next, “Ground Game,” a collaboration between McClatchy and OZY Media, will provide us with in-depth coverage of 12 House, Senate and gubernatorial races in the upcoming midterms. McClatchy describes the initiative as “magazine-style coverage” of these critical campaigns.
Reports on these six House races, three Senate races and three gubernatorial races will be available on McClatchy’s and OZY Media’s websites and apps and in an e-newsletter to be delivered directly to readers. In addition, Alex Roarty and Katie Glueck, McClatchy’s lead reporters for “Ground Game,” will further discuss the coverage on monthly episodes of “Beyond the Bubble,” McClatchy’s pre-existing politics podcast.
Another feature of “Ground Game” is a data project entitled “Who Decides?” The project will track the fundraising efforts of candidates in each of the six House districts the initiative reports on. “Who Decides?” is set to launch mid-July, making these candidates’ fundraising efforts transparent to everyday audiences.
Lastly, the real-time documentary “Beto” will chronicle Democrat Beto O’Rourke’s campaign for Texas Senator Ted Cruz’s seat. O’Rourke has, according to the aforementioned press release, given McClatchy Studios exclusive behind-the-scenes access to his campaign. The serial documentary will be produced and released in real time. Updates can be accessed weekly on Facebook Watch and the Fort Worth Star-Telegram website. Again, another of McClatchy’s initiatives serves to make political campaign information more accessible, rebelling against typical horse race coverage.
Mainstream media outlets have been widely criticized for their horse race journalism in the 2016 election. Rutenberg of the New York Times said that national political media ultimately “lost sight of its primary directives in this election season: to help readers and viewers make sense of the presidential chaos.”
The Harvard Kennedy School’s Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics and Public Policy released a study in July of 2016 which determined that “the coverage of the primaries focused on the horse race over the issues – to the detriment of candidates and voters alike.”
The real difference in McClatchy’s new reporting lies in its emphasis on the local. Rather than relying solely on statistics and vague “national issues,” McClatchy is aiming at the heart of what matters to real communities that will be affected by the election of new candidates. This is in stark contrast to coverage of the 2014 midterms.
CNN published an article about the 6 factors certain to influence the 2014 midterm elections and not one of them moved past broad political concepts, like the economy or Obama’s approval ratings. McClatchy’s coverage, specifically “The Influencer Series,” delves deeper into the issues people care about.
FiveThirtyEight’s Nate Silver penned an article describing how, because control of the federal government is not at stake, the 2014 election is “the least important in years,” it “isn’t so special.” “Ground Game’s” in-depth coverage of various key races show that, whether or not a national blue wave or red wave crashes over the country, individual races and candidates are still important and influential. Politico even put out an article entirely made up of 10 maps and corresponding statistics that “explain the 2014 midterms.” All three of McClatchy’s new ideas – “The Influencer Series,” “Ground Game,” and “Beto” – combat the vague gestures of standard coverage.
McClatchy’s – and OZY Media’s – new initiatives offer a new take on election reporting by incorporating readers’ feedback and prioritizing accessibility and community involvement above all else. Their initiatives are a concrete improvement upon current horse race coverage, which ultimately fails to inform and involve essential local voices.
The Sacramento Bee, The Charlotte Observer, The Kansas City Star, The (Raleigh) News & Observer, the Miami Herald and the (Fort-Worth) Star-Telegram are all publications which fall under the McClatchy umbrella. McClatchy’s new initiatives will, hopefully, help audiences across their 14-state presence make informed decisions about which candidates and policies will benefit their communities and make sense of the politically-complex midterm elections.