How gratifying to see a former student of mine, Amethyst Holmes, reporting the big news for Huntsville– that voters there in Madison County turned down today’s referendum to spend money from the Alabama trust fund to cover general fund expenditures.
Now, Holmes’ story provided no local reaction comments (interviews or statements from local elected officials), but it took a more nuanced approach to reporting the results of the election.
It showed why it was important to let one’s audience know how the “home crowd” felt about an issue on the ballot.
Minutes after Holmes’ report posted on al.com,Huntsville’s perennial TV market news leader WAFF 48 anchors Kim Essex and Mark Thornhill began their newscast with breaking news on a shooting followed by a live update from Charles Molineaux, formerly of CNN, on the statewide outcome.
Molineaux never mentioned the finer point of the local vote in WAFF’s own backyard– the fact that a sizeable number of local voters in Huntsville said “NO” to a referendum.
Wasn’t that relevant to the story being told in Huntsville?
By 10:08, Max Reiss, who told the story of the vote and its impact, provided his analysis and explanation of “what it means” to the viewing watching Huntsville NBC affiliate.
“This is a fascinating night for Alabama politics,” Reiss told the WAFF audience.
But, the LOCAL ANGLE is what we depend on local reporters to provide. Otherwise, we could depend on The Associated Press to do our journalism for us.
Holmes graduated from the University of Alabama just this past spring. She interned at The Huntsville Times last summer.
WBRC leads its 9:30 p.m. half-hour with its political reporter Max Reiss, who provides reports to all Raycom-owned stations in Alabama.
Reiss tells WBRC anchors Beth Shelburne and Steve Crocker that the outcome of the referendum would have been quite different had the question been on the November 6 ballot.
He estimates the expected 20 percent of Alabama voters went to the polls today and the low turnout worked in favor of those pushing for use of the trust fund.
Does this add something to our knowledge of what happened tonight?
Reiss brings the political analyst part of reporting into focus as an on-air broadcaster. But his analysis is based on shoe leather reporting that he does on a regular basis covering news from Montgomery.
Most broadcast news outlets in Alabama don’t have a seasoned political reporter like Reiss, a must have on a night like tonight.
Huntsville’s WAFF, Birmingham’s WBRC, Columbus/Phenix City’s WTVM and Montgomery’s WSFA are market leaders, in part, because of strong broadcast journalists like Reiss.
It’s now 9:15 and just moments ago, WBRC-TV, the self-proclaimed “largest and most watched broadcast news team in Alabama” reported the first reaction to the passage of a referendum that spends more than $400 million from the Alabama Trust Fund to cover essential state services in Alabama’s prisons and in Medicaid programs.
But the Birmingham-based FOX affiliate got beat on this story by al.com, who posted a story from Birmingham News reporter Virginia Martin who led with the passage by two-to-one vote, but included states from party leaders on both sides of the political aisle.
Martin’s story was posted at 9:07 p.m.,minutes after WBRC began their local newscast with a local story not related to today’s statewide referendum.
Meanwhile, Montgomery Advertiser posted a story by Sebastian Kitchen and Brian Lymanon the outcome of the vote one minute earlier at 9:06 p.m.
In WBRC’s defense, it did include a statement from Governor Robert Bentley’s office, which was NOT in the two accounts by al.com or the Advertiser.
(This appeared in an updated version of Virginia Martin’s story on al.com minutes later)
The al.com Site used what’s known as a “persistent URL” so the earlier example noted above is probably not viewable at this point.
Most people who are journalists live for the excitement of election night.
After the months of covering a campaign, the debates, the candidates’ forums, the controversies and the issues in the election, NOW the voters are speaking.
Covering the outcome of the election is as important as anything we as journalists do.
But, what happens when there aren’t any candidates per se? What happens when there is only one issue requiring a simple “yes” or “no” response? Is that the same BIG DEAL for journalists?
For Alabama journalists, absolutely it is!
Continue reading “Why September 18th is the BIG Election Night for Alabama Media”