Horserace Reporting and Fixing Media Coverage

About a month ago I had a take home exam/essay for my Political Communication unit at university. Now that I have gotten the marks back for them – I can happily say I got 100% for it all, as the guy that ran the unit was really impressed and even praised the fact I challenged some of the concepts and ideas – I thought I would post them all here in a string of short pieces without fear of TurnItIn flagging me for plagiarising my own content. I’ll quote the questions we were given and then have what I wrote underneath – there will be six in total. In the final of the short answer questions, we detailed horserace reporting and had to put forward suggestions on improving media coverage.

What is ‘horserace reporting’, and in what ways can contemporary election coverage be improved?

Horserace reporting is a journalistic practice that focusses primarily on the ‘position’ that a politician holds in a particular poll or vote. It places much more emphasis on how they are faring during a campaign and allows for speculation as to the electability of a specific candidate. This does, however, have many criticisms and flaws, the main one being the complete lack of substance behind the reporting.

Firstly, polls are simply a snapshot of a specific moment in time and may not even reflect the real feelings of those who are polled. Brexit, the 2016 US election, and the 2019 Australian election had polls suggesting a Remain, Clinton, and Labor victory respectively, yet all of them were to fail.

Horserace reporting appeals to journalists because it supplies easy content for the media cycle (Cushion & Thomas, 2018), but it draws attention away from important and substantial pieces of information that an informed public should be aware of. There are many ways in which election reporting can be improved while also fitting the 24-hour media cycle.

The first would be to analyse the policies instead of the polling and personalities of candidates. Coverage should be about what a politician will do if elected, not a character assessment or repeat of their talking points. This would allow the population to make their own opinions based on what will actually affect them, not just personal opinions about their leaders – former Labor leader Bill Shorten is the perfect example of this, polling poorly whilst trying to promote policy and Labor unity.

Another way would be to include voices that often get overlooked, like prisoners on prison policy, welfare recipients on welfare matters, etc. This opens the door to extensive commentary and analysis with real world effects and consequences, giving certain issues a human face.

 

Read part 4 HERE

Read the essay piece HERE

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