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Set the agenda and understand the issues

DISCUSSIONS | May 24, 2006


Melvin Mencher

Melvin Mencher, NF '53; Nieman Fellow 1953; professor emeritus, Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism

I am addressing the need for better coverage by local reporters of the House and Senate races in their districts and states. Candidates for Congress too often are given a free ride by superficial local coverage that amounts to rewriting news releases and he-said, she-said reporting...claim, counter-claim journalism.

Before journalists can inform the public, they need to inform themselves about the issues that should be debated by the candidates. Because of uninformed coverage, reporters allow candidates for the House and Senate to define the issues. This kind of denotative reporting is satisfactory at a low level, but inadequate. Reporters need to put on the agenda the issues they conclude are important to the public and aggressively pursue responses. How has the incumbent voted on key issues? Where does the challenger stand on these issues?

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