Sunday, October 26, 2008

REPORTER BLOG: Covering Politics Without Being Political

Carlyn Lynch

I think one of the hardest things about reporting is keeping your opinions out of your stories. If you're covering gas prices it's easy, but when you get lucky and get to cover a story that you're interested in, it's almost impossible not to feel some sort of personal attachment to the story or people involved. Every story you do is like a mini project. You build it from the ground up and have to take ownership of it. I always view my stories as a reflection of me, which sometimes makes it difficult to keep personal feeling out of the process. A perfect example of this would be when I got to cover Joe Biden's appearance in Athens. I have taken a real interest in this election and was so excited hear one of the major party candidates speak.

It was an amazing opportunity. This election is one of the most important in American history and I wanted to take full advantage of the situation. I checked my microphone levels about a million times and shot two tapes worth of video by the time I was finished.

It was really hard not to get caught up in the spirit of the event. It was a beautiful day, music was playing, people were excited, the speakers were excited. The speeches were really well done, Biden's especially. He connected with the audience by being pretty soft-spoken most of the time, just letting them know what he thinks needs to change in America. At different key points in the speech, however, he would get fired up so the audience could tell that he was passionate about those issues. There were at least a couple times where I had to stifle the urge to applaud, it's just a natural reaction to get caught up in the excitement. I was there strictly to report but it's difficult to attend an event like that without becoming a part of it.

If there's one thing that gets people going, it's politics. I've seen many political conversations between friends turn ugly. This campaign season has seen so much more voter involvement than there has been in the recent past. People are very invested in this election's outcome and I am no exception. Whether I was covering a democratic or a republican gathering, it would have been difficult for me to decide how to tell the story the OBJECTIVE way and not MY way.

There are just so many ways to present something. Different people can watch the exact same event unfold and interpret it a million different ways. I'm still learning every day how to make sure I'm informing people of what they need to know and checking my opinions at the door. I think the key is separation, completely turning off the emotional side of your brain while you're in reporting mode. Easier said than done? Definitely.

When I went home and reviewed my tapes, I started thinking about possible ways to present unbiased information on a politically one-sided event. My decision was to make the story about the issues. I would not put anything that was said about the other party in my package. I also decided to focus on the people. My job is to inform my audience of what they want to know about so I spoke to many people at the rally to get a feel for what issues matter to Athens voters.

I set up my story in a Q and A format. My interview segments, called sound bites, alternated between citizens' concerns and Biden's responses to those concerns. It was the best way I could think to make a complete, relevant story. Almost the entire thing was sound bites from the people I interviewed. My way of separating myself was to let other people, not me, tell most of the story. I think it worked and I really hope viewers would agree.

No comments: