CNN’s Election Coverage Ramps Up With Joe Johns’ “Voters in America” Documentary

CNN’s Joe Johns hit a home run with his “Voters in America: Who Counts” documentary that premiered October 14, 2012. It shined a light on the controversial voter ID laws that have been passed by more than half-dozen states in the past few years.

All of the cable and broadcast networks are covering the U.S. Presidential debates.   CNN is proudly promoting Candy Crowley’s hosting the next debate this Tuesday.

But, how many news organizations are devoting an hour to understanding the issues and the individuals behind the recent string of voter ID laws?

CNN senior correspondent Joe Johns’ “Voters in America: Who Counts” documentary turned the spotlight on the battleground state of Florida and showed us the story of  Florida State Representative Dennis Baxley and Civil Rights Pioneer LaVon Wright Bracy.

Joe Johns

Johns ‘ Best Work

I’ve been a fan of Joe Johns ever since I was a journalism student at Howard University in the late 80s/early 90s and watched his reporting on WRC-TV in Washington, DC.  He was a good reporter then.

But, I believe the “Voters in America” documentary that premiered tonight was one of his best projects ever.

It certainly stands to make an impact greater than the  daily, “breaking news” broadcast journalism that he produces.

As a news producer, I know Johns  had an army of producers in CNN’s documentary unit working with him.   But,  he was more than a black face on an issue that is so racially-charged.

Johns’ background covering criminal justice and his understanding of the issues came across in the way he queried both Baxley and Bracy about their positions on these new laws.

The Voter ID Laws

I come from the state of Virginia and work in the state of Alabama, both of which have enacted tough voter ID laws.   As a life member of the NAACP, I have questioned the real need for such laws, especially in light of our nation’s history of poll taxes and literacy tests for African Americans.

Dennis Baxley

CNN presented the various sides of this issue without making Baxley, the chief sponsor of Florida’s 2011 law,  out to be the “bad guy.”   Instead, Baxley was presented a Christian family man, who legitimately believes he’s doing the right thing.

Viewers got to see Baxley in his day job as a funeral director in Ocala, Fla. and a new grandfather and not just as a politician with ulterior motives, which is often the case in our news reporting of proponents of voter ID laws.

He and I can worship the same God, but walk out our faith differently when it comes to public policy.

Lavon Bracy

At the same time, “Voters in America” brought national exposure to Dr. Bracy, a preacher’s wife, who was the  first African American to integrate the public schools of the Alachua County school system.

After being as effective as she has been registering thousands of voters over the last few years,  Dr. Bracy should be recognized by Florida’s legislature for her role as a citizen in the Sunshine State.

Working (Univ. of Alabama)  and going to school (Univ. of Georgia)  in the Southeastern Conference (SEC),  I’ve traveled to Gainesville, Fla. (The Alachua County seat and home of the University of Florida Gators) many times.  I never knew about Dr. LaVon Bracy until tonight’s CNN documentary.

“Voters in America” gave ample attention to the role of the black church in mobilizing citizens to exercise their right to vote, a right for which so many gave their very lives.

Thanks CNN for shining the light on this important issue.   I hope to show this “Voters in America” project to many of my students at the University of Alabama as we understand  the important role that broadcast journalists like Joe Johns and his team of producers play in uncovering the REAL STORY behind many of the issues in this important 2012 election.

Former UA Student Breaks Madison County Trust Fund Vote Story

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.

Raycom’s Max Reiss Provides First Analysis of Trust Fund Vote

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?

Absolutely.

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.

TV Follows Web With Alabama Trust Fund Vote Updates

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.

Why September 18th is the BIG Election Night for Alabama Media

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”

Artur Davis, Charlie Crist Keep My Political Interest, Speak Their Mind

Charlie Crist’s endorsement of Barack Obama and Artur Davis’ debut at the Republican National Convention are helping keep my attention this political season.

This is probably the first and only time I will comment on politics here on this blog.   Since I was a kid, I’ve loved to watch politics.    That’s one of the reasons I became a journalist.

The two political figures who prompted me to post– Artur Davis and Charlie Crist– were two moderates within their respective parties, one of whom has decided to change parties.

Political junkies like me are salivating as we prepare to a feast for the next two weeks with the quadrennial political conventions.   It’s  appointment TV for me first from Tampa and next week from Charlotte.

Charlie Crist

After reading Former Florida Republican Gov. Charlie Crist’s endorsement of Barack Obama in today’s Tampa Bay Times,  I was reminded of my former Congressman Artur Davis’ change of political heart.

Continue reading “Artur Davis, Charlie Crist Keep My Political Interest, Speak Their Mind”