Tuesday, September 4, 2012

The BBC: How polite(ical)

Bradley W. Parks

Politeness in politics? Whoever heard of such a thing? As of the most recent years, elections have left voters standing knee-deep in mud, questions unanswered. They slash through forests of attack ads with red and blue machetes searching for long lost issues amongst the petty fighting "as seen on TV."

Right? Isn't that what elections coverage is all about? All it is is ads, throat-cutting, foot-stamping, gut-punching fights, right? Right?!

Of course not. Truth be told, there is honest reporting out there despite all the negativity that seems to spread faster than the common cold on a wet winter's day. And under layers and layers of he-said-she-said, issues remain the driving forces behind United States elections. The same can be said for this year's presidential race between President Barack Obama and Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney. This race is about the issues.

But instead of "Obama this" and "Romney that" tactic of election coverage and the candidates' arguments themselves, I'll take the BBC's approach of using formal titles of "Mr. Obama" and "Mr. Romney" to address the candidates during my analysis of BBC election coverage. And I'll be discussing the issues.

I came across the idea reading this introductory piece to the Democratic National Convention on BBC.co.uk. I found the use of "Mr." to bring Mr. Obama and Mr. Romney down to my level a bit. It added politeness to a race that can get so very heated. Plus, it makes it more difficult to play the blame game. It's much harder to attach "Mr. Obama" to one of the president's policies. ("Mr. Obamacare" doesn't take the same harsh effect.)

Another item I find refreshing about the BBC's coverage of the presidential election is more the lack thereof. On the morning (at least it's morning in Eastern Standard Time) television program BBC World News, the network gives viewers just that: world news. Last week, the top story on World News was about the Paralympic Games in London. The games took priority over many other stories. The BBC took time to dedicate coverage to a wide variety of areas, whereas, here in the United States, viewers can hardly catch a break from constant election coverage. The BBC did not overdo it. They gave to the election what belonged to the election.

Another great feature in the BBC's coverage is the "polltracker." The polltracker does as it says. It tracks the polls. But it does so in an interesting way, allowing users to interact with the graph. In portions where Mr. Romney's approval percentage went up, the tracker marks the event or events that happened in context of that increase. It essentially shows readers which moves may have been the right ones and which ones may have been costly. The tracker does a fantastic job of visualizing the changes in opinion amongst voters.

Finally, a piece that screams "look at me" to American voters, but Americans (most likely) don't know about it. The headline says it all: "How can it cost $6b?" (the U.S. presidential election, that is). An infographic compares the cost of the U.S. election compared to the valuation of facebook, the cost to put on the 2012 London Olympic Games, and the cost of the United Kingdom election. It goes straight to the point, declaring that a lot of the money comes from those ads everyone loves seeing take over their televisions. One quote in the story from a voter puts the thoughts of millions of Americans very plainly: "It's extremely annoying."

So it turns out that Americans may want to cross the pond for some of their election coverage. The BBC provides a little less coverage with a lot more substance. Because this is a popular idea among American voters, it makes the BBC one of the best news outlets Americans have never heard of, bringing politeness back to politics.

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