Oregon TV Stations: Want Politics? Read BlueOregon!

The Eugene Register-Guard shares this tidbit from the recent dust-up about whether local TV is covering enough politics:

If the Portland stations were concerned about the coalition's complaint, they'd offer a convincing response to the group's charges. Instead, they referred The Oregonian's reporter to Bill Johnstone, president of the Oregon Association of Broadcasters. Johnstone proceeded to belittle everyone in sight, and ended by suggesting that TV viewers go elsewhere for news. Johnstone said that devoting 1 percent of newscasts to local politics gives viewers "more than their fill," and that covering what politicians say is not in the public interest because few of them tell the truth. People who are interested in politics, Johnstone said, should tune in to political ads or use the Internet.

Which is, of course, absurd. The Register-Guard goes further and argues that media folks just don't do a good job of making politics interesting:

The news media, and particularly television stations, are criticized for covering politics like a sporting event or a soap opera, but they don't. The greater failing is in political coverage that is colorless, and fails to convey the exciting or terrifying possibilities inherent in public policy. That's why so many people tune out when political news is presented, leading to a vicious cycle of less coverage and less interest. ...

[Johnstone] might even have said that TV news producers, and all other forms of media, need to work harder to find engaging ways to cover political news. Too often, news of elections and politics is administered like castor oil: good for you, but unpleasant. Instead, political news should help people understand how they are affected. It can be done, because elections and politics are about money and power, life and death, freedom and servitude. Everyone is interested in those things. Putting them on the screen in a compelling fashion would be good for the public interest, and for ratings.

Read the rest.

A few questions: How could local media - especially TV - make state and local politics more interesting and more compelling? Should they cover the personalities more? Or less? Should they get in-depth on policy? Or do more 'horserace' coverage during the non-election part of the cycle? How can they make policy interesting and accessible?

Local media often complain that they wish they could cover politics more and better, but the ratings just don't justify the investment. So, rather than using this space to criticize local media - let's give 'em some constructive suggestions about how to make things compelling. Any good examples already out there?


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    This has been a pet issue of mine for years. Local television loves the money that political campaigns spend but they are not interested in covering the races.

    Part of the reason is most reporters don't cover politics on a regular basis, so the are trying to figure issues out on the fly, so idea one, TV should follow newspaper's lead and assign reporters to covering politics. This will improve the quality of coverage because as campaigns develop a relationship with the reporter opportunities for news stories will develop.

    Also we must understand how television works, an assignment editor decides in the morning what is news for that day. Unless they are covering breaking news, most decisions about what is going to be on the news that evening are made by 10:00AM. This is why newspapers are still crucial, assignment editors are influenced by what they read that morning.

    Idea number two, cover the broad issues, and let the internet and newspapers cover the details, during the recent campaign two days before the election a business reporter did a story that both the Saxton and Kulongoski media buyers were not local. Now this might be interesting, but I am not sure any voter made up their mind based on this tidbit. With the significant differences between the two candidates perhaps a story on some other issue might have made more sense. Television's power is its reach and it should look for issues that reach the broadest audience, not insider issues like who a candidate hires as their media buyer.

    Idea number three, this is for the campaigns, think about creating television friendly stories. This is a visual medium and it is up to campaigns to think about what the are doing will look like on television. Also television deadlines are different than print deadlines, so you have to take this into consideration.

    Idea number four, let's look for other forms of political discourse besides the set piece debate. Television stations want to do the standard debate (in the Governor's campaign we had 35 media sponsored debate requests), but in general these are dull and uninformative, so let's look for alternatives. How about making candidates debate policy experts? Or use a more Socratic format that takes on an issue and forces the candidate to show his or her decision making process. I pitched both of these ideas, during the Governor’s race, but they got little traction.

    Races like those for Governor or U.S. Senate usually get some degree of television coverage. It is the down ticket races that could really benefit from increased coverage. Television news will continue to ignore politics until they are pressured to cover campaigns. The main reason is cost, to cover politics you need dedicated beat reporters, you need bright, talented editors and you need to be creative; all of these things cost money. It is much easier to listen to the police scanner.

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    The main reason is cost, to cover politics you need dedicated beat reporters, you need bright, talented editors and you need to be creative; all of these things cost money.

    Seems to me they should use at least 10% of the money they bring in from political ads on political coverage. If it's true that Portland's stations brought in $27 million in 2004, why shouldn't they dedicate $2.7 million to covering politics? Even spreading that over two years and four stations, that's still $337,500 per year per station. Plenty for a full time producer with a budget.

  • TomCat (unverified)

    I like both Jim Ross' and Kari's ideas on this. When I watch the local news I see occasional 'filler' stories, that are there just to take up space..... cat in a tree, etc.

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    September 2006 fantasy article.

    Dateline: Ted Ferrioli's ass.

    All over the state, hitherto unknown Republicans are running for office using the "65% solution" as a primary campaign plank, and in many cases touting it as an original idea of the individual candidates.

    Turns out that Ted, who also funnels huge sums of money from lobbyists through his own fundraising organization to these original thinkers, also provided them with this issue.

    The 65% solution was originally created by right wing warrior Tim Mooney of Arizona. Mr. Mooney, who is funded almost exclusively by organizations that wish to entirely destroy public education, admits in a PDF on his website that there is NO evidence that this scam works, but argues that it's a good way to get publicity for vouchers and charter schools.

    Why then, is Senator Ferrioli pushing this steaming pile of shit, and why do none of his innovative candidates even know how to access the website?

    Ferrioli and his byblows should at least come out and admit that their central goal is the destruction of public education in Oregon.

    Let's have a debate about that.


    OK, OK. There are undoubtedly about a million Oregonians who could write a better story, but I'd definitely find it more interesting than most of what passes for Oregon news.

  • Gil Johnson (unverified)

    Back when people watched TV for sitcoms, variety shows and Westerns, the FCC had a rule that each station had to have a minimum amount of time--like an hour--devoted to presentation of the news. Most stations filled this obligation begrudgingly. Then they started running mostly celebrity/ disaster and crime stuff and found that news departments could be a profit center, particularly if they didn't hire many reporters.

    My suggestion is that if such an FCC rule still exists, it not only be repealed, but a new rule be imposed that absolutely prohibits TV stations from having news programs at all.

    Okay, seriously, the assumption of TV people is that politics and policy is dull and therefore nobody wants to watch it. That is just not true. Anyone ever hear Robert Krulwich explain economics to Susan Stamberg about 20 years ago on All Things Considered? It was radio, of course, but it was both hilarious and filled with facts and insight. Same thing could be done on TV.

    Hell, Russell Sadler's TV editorials were a lot more interesting than most of what's on the news these days.

  • Vancouverite (unverified)

    I think that one or more of the stations should have a Monday and Friday five-minute to 15-minute news segment called "Truth, Spin, or Lie?" In my opinion, this would actually garner a larger share than straight coverage, since so many people are convinced that "all politicians lie", and would be happy to see them taken down a notch.

    Just getting this sort of coverage available two days a week would improve voter understand of many candidates and issues, and would return actual analysis to news coverage, something that has been sorely missing.

  • Tom Civiletti (unverified)


    Getting to the heart of a matter is no way to succeed in Republican politics.

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    My suggestion would be for TV stations to treat their audiences with respect. Rather than imagining that we only pine for images of Britney's nethers, instead think that we would consume hard news, competently reported (for the two are not mutually exclusive). The best example? 60 Minutes, consistently the best news show on TV, and also one of the consistently most popular. That show's popularity ultimately spawned a raft of copycats in the 90s, but unlike 60 Minutes, Dateline and others lost their nerve and refuse to show serious stories. They adopted the form, but not the content.

    In local news, if a station committed to producing one long segment a week (say 6 or seven minutes of an evening broadcast) to an in-depth local story in the mode of 60 Minutes, my guess is that it would become a ratings bonanza.

    Imagine: a story about the Portland tram, revealing all the factors that made it such a troublesome issue; a report on the players behind various petitions on a ballot and what they stand to gain; a look at modern logging techniques and the logging industry, and the challenges and opportunities facing loggers in the coming years. The list goes on and on.

    Begin to imagine that viewers have the interest in subtle stories that frame our policy discussions, and lo and behold, you'll find an audience. Promote the newest show your affiliate's network is broadcasting as disguised news, and you'll see ratings continue to decline, right along with the public's opinion of media.

  • Tom Civiletti (unverified)

    Unfortunately, local TV news has given up on viewers who want worthwhile info and attracted folks who want celebrity gossip, violent crime stories, and cute animals. they drag on the weather report when most people would be happy with a quick and accurate forecast. Sports is king, and prepackaged PR posing as news is cheap and easy.

    although license denial is a long shot, it would provide a valuable wake-up call to the corporati.

  • BobTucker (unverified)

    Does all the air time given to Saxton for four years by KATU and the Medford TV Station (I don't remember the call letters) for "commentaries" factor into the "coverage" formula?
    More importantly, has KATU determined which of the possibile future Republican candidates they are going to place on the air and promote in anticipation of 2010 now that Saxton is history?

  • Eye on Oregon (unverified)

    The problem is that we are not demanding action and accountability from our representatives -- nor our media. The right wing successfully used outrage and apathy to discredit "the liberal media" and substitute thier own flacks as "objective."

    But "The Media" cooperated by becoming less relevant, by saying "readers (viewers) aren't interested." If they aren't interested, it's because the information has not been presented in a manner that the reader regards as relevant.

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