Saturday in the wake of their massive error I teased CNN about the definition of “Newsworthy”. Yesterday I told the story of a special election that took place last week in Massachusetts, a State where Hillary won by 27 points and where they hold super-majorities in both houses, where a GOP State Senate Candidate flipped a seat that Democrats have held for over 25 years and suggested this story is a good example of what is Newsworthy.
However while I’ve done lots of shoe leather reporting over the last 8 years I’ve never actually worked for a newspaper or in a newsroom, nor have I exercised editorial control over anything larger than this blog.
So what would experienced reporters who have done journalism for a living all their lives and have to sell their product elsewhere, what would such folks lives think?
So I contacted several professional reporters current and former and asked them, without giving any details if he would consider a pro-life 2nd amendment republicans flipping a seat held by democrats for over 25 years in a special election in Massachusetts newsworthy.
As you might guess my first stop was Robert Stacy McCain. He has decades of experience as a reporter in papers large and small from his early twenties. He concluded it was for the following reasons:
“It points to the direction of politics as we head to the midterm elections and it is a possible indicator that the Trump momentum will continue despite the usual trend of off-year elections favoring the party out of power.”
He game an example from recent history as well.
“When democrats had a very good result in Virginia elections in November and this was made national news…the election of a transgender Democrat to a formerly republican held seat (also in Virginia) it made national news.”
And he cited the upcoming special election in Alabama as something that elevates the newsworthyness of the story further:
“If Trump really has momentum nationwide this result in a special election in Massachusetts might point to what we are looking at in Alabama.
That agenda has encouraged the Republican base. It’s about who can get out and mobilize their base. Republicans flip a Democrat seat in Massachusetts that tells you that despite what the pols might indicate and despite what the media might tell you to believe Trump remains popular with his base. So when you come to Tuesday, Democrats have tired to nationalize the Alabama senate race but it will be a base election.”
I also spoke to Don Surber author of Trump the Press and Trump the Establishment the same question. While currently retired he like Stacy McCain has decades of experience in the newsroom. To him the answer to the question would really depend on location.
“If I’m in Massachusetts it’s newsworthy because it has proximity, it has prominence, it’s timely, it’s odd because Gop doesn’t win there it has consequence because it will affect legislation.”
With the GOP only up to 7 senators that last one point is unlikely although you can’t get to 21 without getting to 7 first. So if he was in charge at the Boston Globe
“It has front page newsworthiness below the fold right hand corner.”
The Globe apparently disagreed with Mr. Surber. Tran’s victory didn’t make the front page but a search of their web site for Dean Tran did have a result in the Metro region.
linking to this seven sentence story by Jake Johnson from Wednesday including this quote from the Mass GOP Chair Kristen Hughes:
“The MassGOP is proud to congratulate [Tran] on his victory, which is a testament to the fact that voters stand with Governor Baker’s vision of fiscal discipline and common sense reform,” Kirsten Hughes, chairwoman of the MassGOP said in a statement announcing Tran’s victory.
Based on Don Surber’s stated opinion the Massachusetts paper of record definitely undersold a newsworthy story in the state, but when asked if it rises to the level of a national story , his opinion was very different.
“It’s not really national news I’d probably report it on some level If I ran it on AP I’d run it as a small 3 paragraph story.”
And he explained why: “I’d blog about it, for partisans it has impact. it’s not a national story because you have fifty state senates, most of them are republican. Space is a limited thing…you have to pick and choose your spots, AP would have it, same with Bloomberg news, three paragraphs”
A search of AP showed that while they didn’t have any original reporting they had picked up the Sentinel articles quoted in this piece
While a search of Bloomberg produced plenty for “Dean” results on colleges and “tran” on transgerder issues they had nothing on the special election in Massachusetts.
But that’s newspapers, Should we have seen something on Fox for example?
“Would I expect it to be on Brett Baier’s special report, no.”
And apparently Fox news agrees
How about CNN?
“If you are doing a political hour you might mention it but to the audience CNN is serving it’s not a national story.”
and apparently CNN agrees there as well
Of course part of what makes a story news is the attempt of people to push it. For example If I was the GOP chair national chair, particularly if I was the daughter of the former governor of Massachusetts, I’d have made it a point to mention this election to force coverage of a GOP win in a democrat stronghold and if I was the National GOP I’d at least have a mention of this result on my page
Here again Surber disagrees. “Democrats went with their minor victories because they had nothing else to brag about.” Surber cited the Tax bill, news reports on manufacturing jobs and President Trump move on Jersualem as stories of a much higher priority for the national party to push. But even if the national party decided to push the story, if it was up to him Surber wouldn’t bite saying bluntly: “It’s just not a national story.”
So maybe I shouldn’t be as hard on CNN as I was yesterday.
Closing note. I had planned to have a third reporter for this post, unfortunately for me and him Dave Weigel became rather tied up this weekend. Ironically he became more newsworthy than my story or this post.