Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Zanesville NBC affiliate provides mediocre election coverage

By Christine Holmes | ch850016@ohio.edu

Voters in Muskingum County, Ohio may need to rely on election education from sources other than their local TV station, WHIZ based off the station's web coverage of a nearby rally stop.

When GOP vice presidential nominee Mike Pence visited the neighboring city of Cambridge on Aug.10, the NBC station located in Zanesville managed to provide just over 200 words summarizing the campaign stop at the Pritchard Laughlin Civic Center.

In the story, the reporter pulled just one quote from a speech she notes as being 30 minutes long.

GOP VP candidate Mike Pence addresses a crowd of
 rally goers in Cambridge, Ohio. | Photo Credit: WHIZ
The reporter cited Pence predicting economic growth should Donald Trump be elected president, but didn't expand in much detail on the quote or put it in context.

Such practices force readers and viewers to interpret the quote themselves, instead of the journalist doing the work and asking the questions for them.

The reporter attempts to clarify the statement in a following quote from a former state representative, but much of her effort is lost because she didn't identify the representative's political affiliation for readers to understand in whole.

The story leaves readers with the possibility for many questions, especially those regarding specific statistics stated within direct quotes.

This particular version of the story for web doesn't provide any research or attempts to localize the information to make it more pertinent to residents of Muskingum County.

Perhaps the story is better told in its broadcast form, but the version found online lacks detailed information for voters to use at the polls, putting them in a difficult position to make a fully educated decision.

Despite being a small market (204 out of 210, according to Neilsen's Television Market Universe Estimate for 2016) WHIZ  still reaches more than 31,500 homes and holds great responsibility for providing thorough election coverage for its viewing area.

This story reaches a much bigger audience than the greater Zanesville viewing area because it's online and therefore, has the potential to really tell the story of what those in southeastern Ohio think of the 2016 election.

Based off this local coverage of the presidential election, voters aren't left any more informed on the candidates than they would after reading the station's story previewing Pence's campaign stop.

The story would have benefitted readers more by describing more about the Trump supporters or protestors who showed up to the rally. It would have painted a better picture of what area voters think about the election and how they perceive the candidates.

Sometimes official opinions aren't the only ones needed for a story. Although necessary to set the tone of a story, the opinions from average residents may be valued more by local viewers and readers.

National outlets aren't necessarily going to take the man on the street coverage approach, so it's the duty of local journalists to be the voice for individuals who otherwise wouldn't have an outlet to express their opinions.

This story completely missed the opportunity for local opinions from, for example, small business owners, teachers, and everyday blue collar workers.

This post may seem overly critical of what is typically a springboard station for new journalists, but it's important for journalists at all levels, including students, to understand the role they play in the function of society.

During a presidential election it's especially important for reporters to provide full political coverage for their audiences. This particular story didn't quite do that.

The reporter did, however, do a good job of eliminating political bias in her choice of quotes used in the web article.

For example, she didn't take what Pence said as the absolute truth. She used another source to gain perspective from the democratic party's view, which is a good instinct for a journalist to have from the watchdog outlook on reporting.

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