In its coverage of Biden’s speech, Michigan Radio noted, as did most reports in one way or another, that “AFT union leaders strongly back President Obama.” Here, Michigan Radio (as well as other outlets) could have offered readers a real sense of what, beyond T-shirts and applause, the union’s “back[ing]” looks like. Where does AFT sit in the landscape of political players? The report could have explored this with, say, a reference or link to OpenSecrets’s list of the “Top All-Time [Political] Donors,” on which AFT ranks 10th of 140 (87% of donations to Democrats), a few rungs lower than the 7th-ranked Goldman Sachs, or to more specific OpenSecrets’s data on AFT’s political expenditures (nearly $2 million supporting Obama in 2008). This is readily-available information and key context that reporters, ideally, would offer their readers and viewers every time a candidate courts a particular audience.
Reporters should not limit the bounds of their campaign stump stories to What Is Said on a topic—that is, a candidate’s message of the day—or even to what the candidate indicates is The Key Topic. It is a disservice to readers to do so. Knowing that campaign events will multiply—as will the press pack covering them—after the nominating conventions later this summer, I offer a rule of thumb for coverage: follow the story—not the agenda.