My own review found a more mixed picture. The quality of campaign coverage—collected on a robust election news page is abundant, suggesting the station takes its obligation to provide political information seriously. But the quality of that coverage is variable.
Those Sunday morning interviews are long and focused on substance, clocking in at a leisurely 20 minutes. “We decided to go long-form and the response has been good,” Marks told me.
It’s a laudable impulse, and one that gives viewers an opportunity to hear at length from the politicians vying to represent them. The problem is that viewers who tune in are too often only hearing from the politicians, with little pushback or follow-up. For example, early in anchor Jean Jadhon’s Oct. 14 interview with local Rep. Morgan Griffith (video; transcript), Jadhon more or less asked Griffith to expound on his attack against the Obama administration’s approach to coal. She’d have done better to press Griffith on some of his own rhetoric. (See this post for some thoughts on how to do that.)
The problem of too-easy interviewing shows up on other occasions too, like a brief sit-down a few weeks ago with GOP vice presidential nominee Paul Ryan. WDBJ’s journalists don’t necessarily have to adopt the attack-dog interviewing method favored in Las Vegas, but a more skeptical approach would yield more value.
WDBJ does offer some good pushback—and welcome scrutiny of the advertisements that are filling its coffers—with periodic AdWatch segments, like this one from anchor Christ Hurst that explores claims in ads from American Crossroads and Crossroads GPS. In two minutes, Hurst tells viewers who’s behind the ads, offers a quick summation of the ads’ content, and shows what they get wrong. There’s some room for improvement in technique—the Annenberg Center’s Flackcheck.org offers a useful tutorial on video factchecking—and the segment could air more frequently, but this is good stuff.
The station also offers steady coverage from the campaign trail, featuring web livestreams from any visit for a presidential or vice presidential candidate in or near their area (and there’ve been a lot of visits), along with links to coverage from other outlets whenever a candidate visits Virginia.
For example, when Ryan was in Lynchburg for a rally on Oct. 16, WDBJ ran a regular event coverage spot for its newscasts, provided a streaming broadcast of the visit, and added video from Ryan’s tour of a local business to its online content. There was nothing fancy about any aspect of this coverage, but it’s definitely thorough, and it gets the job done.
The bottom line? There’s room for improvement, starting with a more adversarial approach at times. But it’s encouraging to see the station stretching its political coverage beyond event-driven newsreel reporting, and delivering news in a variety of ways: the ad fact-checks, the old school Sunday-morning sit-downs, the livestreams of major candidates, and yes, the transparency about the ad-buying process. It shows a commitment to journalism and solid community service—and a willingness to do more than rake in the cash.