Advertisement

How can we improve campaign coverage? Help us set the citizens agenda for 2024

People stand in voting booths while a small dog waits for its owner to vote.
(Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times)
Share

Good morning. It’s Monday, Dec. 11. Here’s what you need to know to start your day.

Help us set the citizens agenda for 2024

We’re roughly 47 weeks away from the 2024 election and, if you’re at all like me, you’re already feeling exhausted and overwhelmed.

A September survey from Pew Research Center found that 65% of Americans say they “always or often feel exhausted when thinking about politics.” More than half of U.S. adults said they feel angry when thinking about politics. The flip side is dismal, with just 10% saying they “always or often feel hopeful about politics.” Only 4% of U.S. adults said politics made them feel excited.

Advertisement

Elections don’t always bring out the best in our country, media coverage included. But staying informed as you decide whom to vote for is important in maintaining our democracy. So what’s a journalist to do?

Jay Rosen, a journalism professor at New York University who describes himself as a “journalism reformer,” has long been critical of the campaign coverage “pit” that news media regularly falls into. The focus on campaigns as horse races, he explained, centered on polling and the plodding track to victory or defeat “leaves a lot to be desired.”

“[It] appeals to people in the political class, to peers and to people you write about in national politics, [and] has also been very influential at the state and local level,” Rosen told me last week. “It’s one of the reasons that people don’t see as much value in the news as they once did.”

Here are a few things Rosen told me he’d like news media to get better at this time around, along with what he’s optimistic and pessimistic about as we head into peak campaign season.

Refocusing on voters

Rosen advocates for more newsrooms to shift their coverage to promote a “citizens agenda.”

The heart of that approach is turning the attention from the political class to the electorate by asking voters:

Advertisement

What do you want the candidates to be talking about as they compete for votes? 

Rosen notes that what voters want to hear about may not be the same issues that candidates recite on social media, in interviews or on the debate stage. And they might not be issues in the traditional sense, which “the political system has already fashioned into a controversy,” he said.

The hope is that if news media can provide voters with meaningful coverage of what they care about, and hold candidates accountable for addressing what voters want to hear about, people will be more informed and more likely to participate in the democratic process.

“It’s not a magic solution to anything but it is a good place to start,” Rosen said.

The participation problem

A lack of faith or understanding in how government works can hinder people from participating in it. There’s a reason local elections have such abysmal turnout. That’s evident in this breakdown of California’s 2022 general election turnout, where slightly more than 40% of residents eligible to vote actually did.

Part of that could be because local government often feels opaque and convoluted, Rosen said, adding that news organizations sometimes fall short of helping the public decode what’s happening in city halls and statehouses.

“We don’t just need good information,” he said. “We need good opportunities to participate.”

Advertisement

Here I will note that, if you live in Los Angeles County, The Times has a great civic engagement tool called Shape Your L.A. You can plug in your address to learn more about your local, county, state and federal representatives and explore ways to get involved or contact your elected leaders.

‘The stakes are much higher now’

In that Pew survey, one of the most common words U.S. adults used to describe the current state of politics was divisive.

“The stakes are much higher now,” Rosen said, arguing that one key rift concerns journalism itself, as former President Trump successfully turned the news media into a “hate object” for his supporters to revile.

“We have a large number of voters … who reject news of the mainstream media on principle, and are really not reachable by even the most excellent reporting,” Rosen said. “That’s a really difficult problem and I’m pessimistic about solving that in time for the 2024 election.”

Rosen said he finds hope in journalists who want to focus on the democratic process. That also includes working with the perception — expressed on both sides of the aisle — that democracy itself is under threat across the U.S. (though who’s to blame has itself become divided along partisan lines.)

Advertisement

“There’s a general sense that this election is different, and that we have to include the future of democracy as an issue in 2024,” Rosen said. “To use a healthy cliche, that’s on the ballot too.”

Let the great experiment begin!

We want to test drive the citizens agenda model. And who better to help us understand state and national voters’ priorities than you: our legions of passionate Essential California readers?

So, take our survey and tell us:

What do you want the candidates to be talking about as they compete for your vote?

Of course, the presidential race gets the most attention, but the elected leaders most likely to affect your daily life are at the city, county and state level. What would you like to see those candidates prioritize in 2024?

And we want to hear from you on participation. Are you satisfied with your level of participation in the political system? If not, what barriers do you believe are getting in the way of your or fellow citizens’ ability to make their voices heard?

Advertisement

We hope you’ll take a few minutes to answer these questions — and share the survey with others so we can hear from as many people as possible. Our goal is to explore your answers in detail, see what common themes and patterns emerge and use that to help guide how we approach election reporting in this newsletter in the months to come before Nov. 5, 2024.

Today’s top stories

A man watches a raptor.
Bob Everett watches a handler with a raptor at the San Dimas Canyon Nature Center.
(Luis Sinco/Los Angeles Times)

Environment

Dodgers

Housing and development

More big stories


Get unlimited access to the Los Angeles Times. Subscribe here.


Commentary and opinions

Today’s great reads

The silhouettes of trees against wetlands
(Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times)
Advertisement

Their stolen land in Orange County was given back. Now they’re ready to heal. With the recent transfer of 6.2 acres to the two tribes for conservation and cultural use, Indigenous Californians have land in Orange County that is back in their hands, a dedicated space where they can practice traditions that were in place millenniums before the construction of Stonehenge, the pyramids of Egypt or the temples of Greece.


How can we make this newsletter more useful? Send comments to essentialcalifornia@latimes.com.


For your downtime

Illustration of a man with a beard is surrounded by small items including waffles and records.
(Samuel Rodriguez / For The Times)

Going out

Staying in

And finally ... a great photo

Show us your favorite place in California! Send us photos you have taken of spots in California that are special — natural or human-made — and tell us why they’re important to you.

Advertisement
A man wearing a purple shirt and purple bandana on his head plays chess under purple and green lights
Vincent Hubbard, a well-known chess “hustler,” plays chess inside a party bus in South Central Los Angeles.
(Jason Armond / Los Angeles Times)

Today’s great photo is from The Times’ Jason Armond. Almost every day for the last two years, Vincent “VDogg” Hubbard has stood outside the Louisiana Fried Chicken at Manchester and Normandie avenues with a suitcase full of cocoa butter and a traveling chess set. He learned to play in prison and now hopes to turn his hobby into something more.

Have a great day, from the Essential California team

Ryan Fonseca, reporter
Laura Blasey, assistant editor

Check our top stories, topics and the latest articles on latimes.com.

Advertisement