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We’re ditching ‘junk food’ election coverage to focus on what’s at stake when we vote


We’re ditching ‘junk food’ election coverage to focus on what’s at stake when we vote

Feb 28, 2024 | 1:18 pm ET
By Jim Small
We’re ditching ‘junk food’ election coverage to focus on what’s at stake when we vote
Photo via iStock / Getty Images Plus

The stakes could not be higher in 2024, and it’s our job as journalists to both explain exactly what the impacts of a particular election outcome might be and give Arizonans the information they need to be educated and engaged as voters.

The journalism industrial complex has, for quite some time, largely failed in that mission. 

News diets aren’t unlike our actual diets, and so much of election journalism is like junk food: stories about polls and fundraising totals and endorsements have lots of empty calories and little nutritional value. They are refined sugars, providing a quick hit of energy but fading quickly, and leaving the reader wanting for substance.

In many cases, those stories comprise the bulk of what readers consume about elections. And just as a steady stream of junk food will make a body unhealthy, a news diet chock full of those kinds of stories makes for an unhealthy body politic.

By contrast, stories centered on voters, on issues and on outcomes are like a balanced meal: nutritionally and calorically dense, full of information that leaves readers with a deeper understanding of who believes what, why, and what it means for them and their community.

Those stories can include ingredients of the “junk food” stories, like fundraising numbers or polls, but they are just a component of a larger story — election coverage that provides context and puts what campaigns are doing and what candidates are saying in perspective.

In general, the Arizona Mirror wants to lead the way this year in showing readers “not the odds, but the stakes.” That phrase is the brainchild of New York University journalism professor Jay Rosen, who has been a crusader for better election coverage. His solution is something he calls the “citizens agenda.”

The purpose, Rosen says, is to “put the campaign press on the side of the voters” so that they “have their major concerns addressed by the people bidding for power.”

The animating idea of the Mirror has always been to cover Arizona politics and government differently, by centering our reporting on the people and communities affected by our elected leaders and the government. But when it comes to covering our elections, we’ve too often been as guilty as others in the media in chasing quick-hit stories that do little to give voters any deeper understanding of the issues or the candidates.

That’s unacceptable, and we’re committed to doing it differently — and, we think, better — in 2024.

Doing so comes at a particularly critical time, given what we’ve collectively lived through since Donald Trump descended that golden elevator, molded the Republican Party in his image, coarsened the political debate and set about reshaping America.

There is little doubt what awaits us under another Trump presidency. Republicans are making no bones about what they intend to do to our nation and our government should the twice-impeached, four-times-indicted business fraud and rapist once again capture the White House.

At stake are our civil rights, our freedom of speech, our treatment of immigrants and America’s course as a secular nation. 

While many will find the Republican Party’s policy prescriptions for our country reprehensible, a great many will not — and will proudly declare their allegiance to Christofascism and anyone who furthers its goals.

It’s our job to let voters know exactly what is at stake in this year’s election, to give them the tools to get engaged and fight for their vision of Arizona and America.

For too long, voters have been lulled into apathy by political journalism that focuses on who is likely to win instead of what it means if that person or party takes the reins of government.

I’ve been dwelling recently on the lyrics from the 2019 song “Descending” by Tool, an opus about the need to snap out of complacency in the face of an existential threat. And while singer and lyricist Maynard James Keenan, a longtime Verde Valley resident who has been at the forefront of Arizona’s winemaking industry, may not have intended it to be a political critique, the song has taken on new meaning for me as I consider this year’s election and what is at stake.

Sound our dire reveille
Rouse all from our apathy
Lest we cease to be

Call us all to arms and order
Sound the dread alarm through our primal body
Sound the reveille
To be or not to be
Stay the grand finale,
Stay the reading of our swan song and epilogue
One drive to stay alive
It’s elementary
Muster every fiber
Stay alive

If we do our job the way we intend, the Mirror’s reporting on the 2024 election will give Arizonans the information they need to exercise their sovereignty as voters, and to do so with conviction. I can’t fathom a better way for journalists to put the awesome power of the First Amendment into practice.

And that’s where you, the reader, come in. The best way for us to improve how we cover elections is to hear from you — tell us your concerns, what you want to know from candidates, what you hope your vote will achieve. Reach out to our team or email us directly.