The Citizens Agenda in Campaign Coverage
by Jay Rosen
The idea is to learn from voters what those voters want the campaign to be about, and what they need to hear from the candidates to make a smart decision. So you go out and ask them: "what do you want the candidates to be discussing as they compete for votes in this year's election?"
I’m in Australia this week, where the country is in the midst of an election campaign that seems thoroughly uninspiring to almost everyone I’ve talked to. Several times I’ve been asked how campaign coverage might be improved. (See this television appearance on the ABC program Lateline.) I responded with the following sketch.
The Citizen’s Agenda in Campaign Coverage: Ten Steps to a Better Narrative
1.) Four to six months before the vote start asking the electorate a simple question: not, “who are you going to vote for?” or, “which party do you favor?” but: what do you want the candidates to be discussing as they compete for votes in this year’s election? The idea is to find out from voters what those voters want the campaign to be about, and what they need to hear from the candidates in order to cast an intelligent vote.
2.) To answer this question, you will need every method known to the modern newsroom. Don’t rely on one or two; instead, use them all. Redirect the polling budget away from horse race questions and put it in the service of the citizen’s agenda. Send reporters out to talk to voters— a lot of voters. Survey the views of community leaders, meaning: people in a position to know what their “crowd” wants the candidates to be talking about. Hold events designed to solicit those answers. Announce that you are putting together a citizen’s agenda to guide your campaign coverage this year, and that you want to hear from everyone, through any portal they care to use. Allow people to fill out a web form, or send an email, or record a phone message, or put it in a blog comment thread, or communicate over Twitter and Facebook. Use direct mail, advertise in the newspaper and on air, set up listening stations in coffee shops and shopping malls.
3.) As you fan out into the community in search of the citizen’s agenda, you will find a few people who are especially enthusiastic about what you are doing or clued into why it’s important. Ask these people if they want to join your advisory network, the sole purpose of which is to aid in the drafting of the citizen’s agenda and make sure that it reflects what’s coming in. Aim for 10 percent of your total sampling, knowing that the yield will be smaller than that.
To Read the Rest of the Essay and Access More Resources