Michigan Media Ignores Old Myth In Debate Coverage

Governors Race DebateI’m blogging from the “media room” at Detroit Public Television, site of the only scheduled debate between the candidates for Michigan Governor. Here tonight, more than 50 journalists reported from a room next to scene of the debate itself, which happened in a closed TV studio (per debate rules agreed to by both candidates).

The debate was carried live on every Public Television station in the state, along with at least one commercial TV station in the state’s largest markets (including three in Detroit) and on public and commercial radio stations statewide. Additionally, the debate was broadcast live via multiple Webcasts, including two nonprofit websites, where it will stay archived through Election Day. Online, the voter engagement was large on Twitter (check out the action on #midebate) At least one daily newspaper plans eight pages of coverage in Monday’s editions. Organizers say this is the most accessible and covered debate in Michigan’s history.

As I sit watching some of the best journalists in the state craft their stories and examine all of the angles, I am reminded of a myth I heard when I worked in the news business. It went something like this – “The public doesn’t care about politics. They are just interested in the horse race.” So, races are largely ignored (except for controversies in campaigns) until Election Night, when coverage is “blown out” for a few hours. I didn’t agree with that then and I don’t agree with that now. The debate (and another forum we handled media relations for earlier this week at the Detroit Economic Club that drew 450 business leaders on less than a week’s notice) prove that in an age of “robocalls” and attack ads that are uglier than ever, it’s clear that the public wants as close to unfiltered access to candidates in major races that it can get. On nights like this, the combined power of traditional and new media platforms can deliver.

Sure, except for political junkies, the public may not care about “how the sausage is made” in the legislative process. But, in a state like Michigan, at a pivotal time, an election is top-of-mind news. Tonight anyway, media outlets across the streets threw out the old myth and gave the public what it wants and needs. That’s worth noting, especially on a Sunday night, when traditional media coverage is lately bare bones.