Election reflections from the Silver State

Las Vegas Sun political editor Anjeanette Damon wants face time with presidential candidates, more time with voters

NEVADA — Midway through the election cycle just completed, longtime Nevada political writer and TV analyst Anjeanette Damon got a promotion. (I’ve praised her work more than once here). Her bosses at the Las Vegas Sun moved her from political writer to political editor, adding to her responsibilities during a campaign season that already promised plenty of challenges.

With all the stump speeches in the past and all the ballots tallied, Damon took time to chat with me about her reflections—both good and bad—on the dialogue between Nevada’s political reporters, the presidential candidates and the voters during 2012.

CJR: I had the impression that, during the last few, crucial weeks of the cycle, reporters for Nevada’s newspapers seemed to be providing less in-depth coverage than they had earlier in the campaign. Would you agree?

Anjeanette Damon: Maybe. I mean, it’s easier to do the more in-depth, issue-type pieces earlier in the cycle, when you’re not running from campaign rally to campaign rally to campaign rally and responding to the latest attacks. …And I think that’s true of every election. So I don’t know if I’d agree with your premise that you would expect the quality and quantity of [coverage of] the big races to improve right before, because everybody’s burnt out. Even the national press corps was Tweeting or writing about [the fact that] everybody’s exhausted. The pace is just non-stop. …

There’s a lot more to keep up with, so it’s more difficult to take a step back and do those big issue-type stories that we do a little bit earlier in the campaign.

CJR: Did you, in fact, suffer from burnout?

Damon: It’s really hard to keep up with. You’re working a lot of hours. …I think we were trying to find that balance of reporting on all of the actual live events, the rallies…and then doing at least somewhat in-depth, analytical pieces on what’s happening with the electorate and putting everything into context. So, yeah, that last month is definitely fun. I wouldn’t say that it’s burnout to the point of diminishing the quality of our work. I think we were able to keep a very high quality straight through, even through the last week and the follow-ups post-election. But, yeah, it’s exhausting…but it’s also energizing.

CJR: Two days before the election, you lamented in the Sun that you were disappointed that you and your fellow print reporters weren’t given direct access to the presidential candidates during their many visits to Nevada. Can you elaborate on that?

Damon: Yeah, that was frustrating. It was a significant change from four years ago and eight years ago, when the candidates made a considered effort to reach out to the in-state newspapers. I saw that, at the time, as a way to kind of escape, to a certain extent, from the national narrative that was developing on the campaign trail. …A lot of times we’re driven by asking the questions that are specific to the state. One thing that comes to mind is, where are Mitt Romney and Barack Obama on mining reform…or the foreclosure crisis, really drilling down into what their approach was—and, in Obama’s case—whether or not his approach worked. …This go-round, Obama did one roundtable with rural newspaper reporters. Mitt Romney did, during the primary, an editorial board meeting with the Reno Gazette-Journal and the R-J [Las Vegas Review-Journal] and did some quick reporter interviews, [again] during the primary. But in the general, none of the three major newspapers in the state had any time, face time, with either of the candidates.

CJR: Might the reason for that be the fact that their strategists decided would-be voters in swing states like Nevada would get to know the candidates through the onslaught of TV commercials?

Damon: No, I think those were separate campaign strategies. They did do some local TV interviews [but] earned media and paid media were two different strategies.

CJR: That lack of access must have limited your ability to cover certain issues, right?

Damon: That’s what their strategy was, I think. They wanted their earned media to be focused on the staged event of the day. Even with the TV interviews, they required a 24-hour embargo, so TV stations had to sit on the interviews for 24 hours, so that the news cycle following the visit would be dominated by the speech that was given and the optics of the rally…the issues that the campaign wanted to talk about and not the issues that the journalists wanted to raise.

CJR: This is hypothetical since you weren’t offered a one-on-one with either candidate. However, had you been given such an opportunity, would you have agreed to the stipulated embargo?

Damon: I’d have to think about that a little bit. As far as a newspaper interview, if a candidate said something extremely newsworthy, you don’t want to sit on that for 24 hours. But when you’re talking about just sitting down and getting the candidates to open up about issues that are important to readers, the actual Nevada voters, that story doesn’t necessarily have to run that afternoon.

CJR: Moving forward, using the just-concluded campaign as hindsight, is there anything about your team’s reporting strategy you’d like to change during the next election cycle?

Damon: I think, looking back, I would have spent more time talking to voters, because journalism is a two-way street. You are informing the voters on what kind of candidates they have before them and hopefully giving voters enough information to make a wise decision. But it also works the other way. In talking to voters and being knowledgeable reporters in your state, you can inform the candidates, and the people making the decisions, about what the problems are that are being experienced and what voters think is important. Looking back now, I would have carved out more time to do a little more of that voter-to-the-decision-maker reporting.

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Jay Jones is a Las Vegas-based freelance writer who has covered political campaigns for various media outlets in the U.S. and for the BBC in the U.K.