Rubén A. González Macías, ICS, University of Leeds
There he is, the big bad watchdog, barking and growling at the man. His huge fangs, shining in the flashing lights, are the one and only warning he will receive. Next time he sees them, they will be sunk in his own flesh. “What can I do? He’s gonna eat me alive” thinks thescared and diminished guy.
But there is no turning back, he is the candidate and the press is waiting for him. He is supposed to announce the start of his campaign, but he is all alone now. He knows he has to show no fear, he was prepared for that, but the beast is unleashed and hungry. There will be blood today, he is sure about it. He just hopes it is not his.
The nature of the beast
Dealingwith the press during a political campaign is often seen as a high risk duty. It is certainly true, but it is also true that it is not impossible to be successful. The key is to understand the nature of the beast and to use it in our best interest as campaigners, which is (hopefully) the people’s best interest too.
Notwithstanding how scary the watchdog may seem, there is nothing to worry about whenall the magic and mystery around the journalists come to the light. If a candidate and his team know the media habits and needs, it becomes easier to manage the news coverage.
Not that scary at all
It has been taken for granted that political campaigns, especially if they are highly media orientated, boosts citizens’ involvement. However, there are not consistent data whether they impact or notin electors’ decision, because it depends upon aspects of the campaign other than only TV spots (Ansolabehere 1994).
“The state of research on media effects is one of the most notable embarrassments of modern social science” (Bartels 1993:267). The reason is very simple: Political communications through the mass media produce minimal effects, or at least, scientists have not been able to prove thecontrary yet.
Even though there are not still conclusive results about the media influence in political communications, journalists must be considered, not just in case, but as a means to an end. If not exactly crucial, because they are just one tool among others, newsmen could make the campaign easier or harder. So there is no reason to take the chance.
Nevertheless, there are a lot ofpolitical communication consultants that do not agree with this. For them, there is no campaign without media. “The declination of the political parties as effective organizations for voters mobilization and the rise of campaigns focused on the candidate, are the cause and effect of the growing dependency on media to reach the electorate” (Garcia et al 2005:26).
According to that, news institutions alongwith politics and voters, form the campaign triangle. Under this simplistic scheme, the electoral run is reduced to a candidate who uses the media in order to reach and persuade the people to vote for him.
The news factory
Whenever the reporters listen to that news is a manufactured item, they usually feel offended, but scholars argued “we didn’t say journalists fake the news, we saidjournalists make the news” (Schudson 1989:263). And that is exactly what they do. News does not exist by itself, it is something that was produce through a process.
According to this, Carlos Marin, a well known Mexican journalist, stated in his Handbook of Journalism that “the news is the fact or the event, but the news story is the way the reporter translate and shape it in order to communicate it” (Marin2003).
Jose Carlos Lozano added that the journalistic message must be considered as a process, because it is built from several spread pieces (Lozano 1996) or a “collection of facts” (Tuchman 1972:663). In addition, the newsmen not only pick up and publish them, the news is shaped by different micro and macro factors; such as the reporters own interests, media partisanship, commercial contracts,...