Sep 242008
Authors: Shayna Grajo

In a packed room of 80 students, staff and community members, a panel of four media professionals spoke about the constraints that limit the presidential candidates and the media from addressing issues specific to the nation’s underrepresented populations.

Moderated by Collegian Newsroom Advisor Holly Wolcott, the one-hour panel discussion in the Lory Student Center addressed shortcomings of media coverage and public awareness of ballot issues such as poverty, immigration and health care.

Wolcott also questioned the panel on the responsibility of journalists to inform or focus public attention to less-publicized societal issues.

Representing not-for-profit journalism was Jason Kosena, a senior political writer for the Colorado Independent, an online daily publication.

“Politicians go after demographics of people who vote,” Kosena said in an e-mail before speaking at the panel.

“In order to win over college-educated, white voters, for example . you don’t talk about poverty or social justice or race.”

At the panel, Kosena said that the presidential candidates have given less access to traveling journalists on the campaign trail.

“I would like to see campaigns give more access to the traveling media, who, I think, are relegated to the lipstick-on-a-pig stories because they don’t have much else to go on,” Kosena said.

Julia Sandidge, CTV adviser and former news anchor, said journalists do not always ask politicians or the candidates about the issues pertinent to broad segments of underrepresented publics.

“Even when the journalists have access, they are not asking the hard questions, and they are not using the time they have available,” Sandidge said.

The public often can look to specialized and niche media outlets for in-depth coverage on less-publicized issues, said Vanessa Martinez, the online editor for Denver’s 5280 Magazine.

“I agree with [Martinez] that there are certainly niche publications out there that are tackling issues,” Kosena said. “But they don’t have wide readership.”

Kosena said journalists are enticed to report “easier nuggets of information” when they are expected to work 40, 50 or 60 hours a week and produce profuse content.

“When you’ve only got so many hours in the day, trying to grapple with issues of extraordinarily complex policy issues such as immigration or health care, it isn’t easy to do in sound bites,” he said.

Bob Moore, editor of the Coloradoan, said media consumers concerned with ballot issues could be inclined to seek out channels of information that confirm preexisting beliefs.

Wolcott questioned Moore on how the Coloradoan addresses diverse publics, and Moore referenced Coloradoan coverage of rising poverty in Larimer County.

Applying a “systemic focus” to poverty, he said, the Coloradoan has run a series of in-depth articles on poverty.

Moore said he has traveled with a poverty PowerPoint presentation and that the media can play a role in shaping community focus.

“We don’t have the power by ourselves to go out and dictate to the community, ‘Well, we should all pay attention to poverty.’ It’s not that easy,” Moore said.

“You have to build coalitions and you have to build alliances. And you have to convince people that what you’re saying is correct,” he said.

Kosena said that an individual article or news broadcast – “no matter how good it is or how great the investigation might be or how shocking the numbers are” – will not immediately impact lawmakers, readers or other influential people.

“But I do believe that if you lay the groundwork and you continue to follow up and continue to make that part of the public dialogue, that’s when we start to see action happening in the long-run and not in the short-term.”

News Editor Shayna Grajo can be reached at

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