Denver Post politics reporter Lynn Bartels agreed. As the story remained the subject of tweets and talk over several days, she authored a post that shot down the blog’s thesis, with a lede noting that “conservative men have played a role in diminishing female numbers.”
Bartels told CJR she normally does not respond to stories posted by partisan websites. But she says the “Misogynistic Maps” story was not just silly—it was “outrageous.” For years, Bartels has tracked the number of female legislators in Colorado, documenting a decline in Republican women and the swelling ranks of Democratic women, and she says she felt almost a personal responsibility to set the record straight. “I knew [the original article] was just totally self-serving, erroneous crapola,” she says. (Disclosure: Bartels and I were colleagues at the Rocky Mountain News.)
But while Bartels’s item—and a follow-up—debunked the claim, Hanel believes the blog achieved its purpose, simply because it stirred the pot, kept the story in the news, and brought attention to itself. “The [Denver Post] story was not written the way [Colorado Peak Politics] would have wanted, but nevertheless, it influenced the behavior of the state’s flagship newspaper” and ended up widely linked and mentioned in many Twitter feeds, Hanel said.
Those knotty dilemmas aside, the new communication channels—which include partisan cable networks, as well as blogs and social media—have also contributed to the increasingly national scope of much political activity, which has consequences for local outlets covering the 2012 campaign, says Eli Stokols, reporter for Channel 31, the Fox affiliate, and Channel 2, the CW station, in Denver.
“It doesn’t matter if [a candidate] shows up for a pancake breakfast anymore because of the way the national media happens and the way it runs on TV and the Internet. It changes the way people campaign,” said Stokols. While those local events still create photo ops, they also create risk to candidates in the form of ubiquitous video cameras and microphones ready to record unscripted moments—like a recent appearance by GOP presidential hopeful Mitt Romney at an event where a gay Vietnam veteran challenged him on his opposition to same-sex marriage.
But despite the concerns, and a general acknowledgement that traditional outlets are playing catch-up in the new media world, some reporters pointed to the opportunity newspapers have to keep, or reclaim, their bully pulpit.
“For as much as people bash mainstream media and say it’s a dinosaur and it’s going away, they sure spend a lot of time trying to get good write-ups and links from our Twitter feed,” says Hanel, of The Durango Herald. “And it’s not like campaigns are the only ones with Facebook pages and Twitter feeds. I’ve been using Twitter actively for a few months now and it’s fantastic It amplifies the voice of a small newspaper.”
And John Schroyer of The Gazette in Colorado Springs believes the way to battle partisan spin masters is to “fight fire with fire.” Schroyer is a social media pro who believes it’s critical that newspapers develop online relationships with readers.
“As much as possible, we respond to readers’ comments and questions. Our Facebook becomes a personal page as much as professional one,” he says. Such networking increases a newspaper’s audience and allows journalists to combat misinformation spread by partisan campaigns, Schroyer says. Most of all, “you become a source your readers trust. That is our culture now. It is, and it should be.”
Ed Sealover, who covered politics for the Rocky Mountain News in Denver in 2008-09 and now writes for the Denver Business Journal, agrees that media watchers shouldn’t read too much into the proliferation of partisan noise in the twittersphere.
“I don’t think the sky is falling on this issue,” says Sealover. Candidates “are still shooting for the middle ground, and the middle ground is not going to be following Romney’s or Obama’s tweets. They’re going to be watching CNN and reading local news—not maybe in numbers they used to, but still very significant.
“And for all the idea that you’re only getting candidates’ filtered messages now, look at what happened to Rick Perry: people jumped behind him and said he’s our guy, but after three or four debates he was essentially done in the presidential race. You allow traditional media to throw questions at a candidate, and you see what effect that has. I don’t think this is going to be the end of the world.”