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Turning a Blind Eye: Why Reporters Ignore Third-Party Candidates
Unformatted Document Text:  Turning a Blind Eye: Why Reporters Ignore Third-Party Candidates they should “challenge the system,” the interviews suggest that journalists often knowingly operate within the existing political structure. When they talk about objectivity, what they are really talking about is fair coverage for Democrats and Republicans—and not necessarily for third-party contenders. Fourth, according to the interviews, news organizations may have an economic incentive to narrow the field of candidates to make campaign coverage more manageable. In several cases, political journalists said that they were forced to make certain editorial decisions because they were either the only ones covering a particular campaign or because limited budgets and news holes did not allow them to spend time with candidates who they perceived to be likely losers. Finally, the interviews suggest that third-party candidates have trouble getting news media attention because they cannot meet the criteria reporters have informally developed to determine which candidates are serious enough to cover. To the journalists, these criteria are practical ways in which they can make news judgments quickly and efficiently, but these journalistic standards are also a window into how political reporters think, providing concrete reasons for why certain candidates and agendas have difficulty getting into the public sphere. How reporters perceive their role All eight reporters articulated some notion that their role is to cut through the white noise of the candidates’ messages and provide readers with objective, substantive information that voters can use when making a decision at the ballot box. In fact, this concept of “journalist as informer” was a powerful theme in each of the interviews. Reporters said their role is to seek “essential truths” about the candidates; to help readers 9

Authors: Kirch, John.
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Turning a Blind Eye: Why Reporters Ignore Third-Party Candidates
they should “challenge the system,” the interviews suggest that journalists often 
knowingly operate within the existing political structure.  When they talk about 
objectivity, what they are really talking about is fair coverage for Democrats and 
Republicans—and not necessarily for third-party contenders.
Fourth, according to the interviews, news organizations may have an economic 
incentive to narrow the field of candidates to make campaign coverage more manageable. 
In several cases, political journalists said that they were forced to make certain editorial 
decisions because they were either the only ones covering a particular campaign or 
because limited budgets and news holes did not allow them to spend time with candidates 
who they perceived to be likely losers.
Finally, the interviews suggest that third-party candidates have trouble getting 
news media attention because they cannot meet the criteria reporters have informally 
developed to determine which candidates are serious enough to cover.  To the journalists, 
these criteria are practical ways in which they can make news judgments quickly and 
efficiently, but these journalistic standards are also a window into how political reporters 
think, providing concrete reasons for why certain candidates and agendas have difficulty 
getting into the public sphere.
How reporters perceive their role
All eight reporters articulated some notion that their role is to cut through the 
white noise of the candidates’ messages and provide readers with objective, substantive 
information that voters can use when making a decision at the ballot box.  In fact, this 
concept of “journalist as informer” was a powerful theme in each of the interviews. 
Reporters said their role is to seek “essential truths” about the candidates; to help readers 

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