Alice Song / Sun Staff Photographer

Voters filling out their ballots in the polling station at St. Luke Lutheran Church Tuesday.

November 7, 2018

Alumni Examine Evolving Media Coverage of Elections

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Following the shocking election of Donald Trump in 2016, Hilary Krieger ’98, former editor at FiveThirtyEight and, told The Sun that the the “script” for media outlets has “been thrown out.”

“Basic assumption about voters, candidates, events have to be thrown out the window,” Krieger, a former Cornell Daily Sun editor-in-chief, said.

The midterms post their own challenge, as well. Instead of just focusing on who will become president, news media need to pay attention to multiple races — from local to regional to national — from different lenses at the same time, including whether an incumbent candidate is re-elected, whether a state shifts from one party to another, what a state-level victory would do for a specific party.

“Part of the challenge of a midterm is deciding which elections are critical, which ones to focus on, and which ones to ignore … learning that the Republicans won this race or that the Democrats won that race is not enough,” said former Sun editor-in-chief and national editor of The New York Times Marc Lacey ’87, in an email to The Sun. “You need to know what was expected and what the national trends are.”

Adapting to the shifting political beliefs and demographics of each election cycle and the increasing possibilities of election outcomes — both presidential and midterm — can be challenging for news organizations.

“That creates a more dynamic reporting environment, but it also means that when you’re racing to get the story out under tight deadlines, you have to be extra careful you haven’t made assumptions about what’s going to happen based on how it’s been in the past,” Krieger said.

The president has, more than ever, emotionally engaged citizens into participating in politics, according to Krieger.

The influence of the president is most obviously reflected in the voting numbers, which have surpassed those cast in 2014 for the last midterm election, according to The New York Times.

“We’re in uncharted territory with the size of this vote,” Michael P. McDonald, associate professor of political science at the University of Florida, told The New York Times. “In some states, [the number] is closer to the presidential election than to the 2014 midterm election.”

One potential reason for such high turnout is a demographic shift towards young voters, who are being galvanized to political action by issues they’ve seen born of the Trump administration, USA Today says.

A 2018 Time Magazine article found that nearly one-third of the 124,000 Florida citizens — ranging from age 18 to 29 — who voted at early polling stations did not vote in the 2016 presidential election; half of those new voters were just registered.

These newly-registered voters are bringing new questions and variables to the political equation, providing more possibilities for the elections outcome.

“The demographics have shifted to make a once-red county turn a little bluer over time, both in Houston and the greater Houston area,” Keri Blakinger ’11, reporter for the Houston Chronicle and former Red Letter Daze editor of The Sun, told The Sun.

“Generally, that means that races that weren’t really in question 10 years ago might be down to the wire now, so there’s a wider range of outcomes that become possible, and a lot more unknowns.”

Coverage has had to change to adapt to the increased interest in the midterm elections, especially in the younger age bracket.

“The president is always symbolically on the ticket during a midterm election, but I’ve never seen the midterms hinge so fundamentally on how people feel about the president,” Krieger told The Sun. “The country is more polarized and energized about politics now … and that translates into more interest and nationalization of midterm races.”