Second, people should not have to know that an issue is important in advance in order to keep track of it on election night. One of the primary jobs of journalism is to bring critical issues to the attention of media consumers and to explain why they should care. People I queried — who are smart, regular consumers of news — were embarrassed that they didn’t know those races were happening. But it wasn’t their fault. It was the fault of election night coverage.
I know that elections, and Presidential elections in particular, are a heroic media undertaking. There is breaking news every half hour or so once results start coming in, and organizations need to cover all 50 states. I know it is likely not laziness, but rather lack of staff, that leads to the underreporting of something like these gay marriage ballot races.
But something must be done. The system must be re-evaluated. I was watching MSNBC, and there was a lot of fluff between the race calls—surely the gay marriage news could have been squeezed in more prominently there, or in a ticker. Public radio managed, after all, and they don’t have the ability to offer more than one piece of information on the air at once.
And though I appreciated that both the Times and CNN.com kept track of the ballot initiatives if you knew where to look (in the case of the Times, you had to know which states were voting on measures that were important to you), I’d have been happier if they had followed the Washington Post model, with frequent, more prominent updates.
Gay marriage is a big issue in this country—as are other social issues that were on the ballots, like banning the death penalty (California), limiting Obamacare (Florida, Wyoming, Montana) and ending public funds for abortion (Florida). Ballot measures not only lead to significant changes to people’s lives in their own states, but also influence the national conversation for good or ill. There must be a way to include information about what these issues are and why they matter in coverage on Election Day—when most people are paying attention—not just in the days leading up to or following an election. Especially during a Presidential election, when there are so many more media consumers.
There must be a better way to cover other important news like ballot measures on election night. We have four years to figure it out.