How to Write News Stories About Politics

Most reporters have to write news stories on politics sometime during their career. Some dread election years, while others can't wait for the latest campaigns to begin. Whichever way you feel, develop your knowledge, skills and ethical standards so that you can rise above your competition to deliver winning coverage every time someone runs for office.

Understand the Political Process

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Writing news stories on politics starts with understanding how elections work. Make sure you know the difference between primaries and caucuses, why delegates matter, how political conventions work and when runoffs are needed. Breaking down the jargon of politics will help you write about politics so that your audience won't be left confused.

Offer More Than Just Horse Race Coverage of a Political Campaign

Reporting news on politics should be more than just relaying which candidates are up or down during the campaign. Critics call that "horse race coverage" because it resembles an announcer at the Kentucky Derby rather than thorough news reporting. Learn how to interpret poll numbers and dig for the story behind the facts and figures to offer insight to the voters that they wouldn't get by just reading daily poll numbers.

Avoid Media Bias When Covering Political News Stories

Candidates, media critics and the voters themselves are quick to accuse media of bias in their coverage of news on politics. Protect yourself from these attacks by making sure your news stories are accurate and fair to all candidates, even if your story puts a campaign in a negative light. Not all hard-hitting stories are biased, and not all positive stories are accurate. Know how to defend your reporting when you face accusations of political bias.

Avoid Accusations of Bias by Not Getting Too Chummy With a Candidate

Covering a campaign day-to-day puts you in close contact with the candidate and his staff. While you may be on friendly terms, make sure you keep your professional distance. Understand the risks involved if you get too chummy with a candidate. While you may feel that you have the inside track to get exclusive information, often there are strings attached that could compromise your ethical standards.

Understand How Politicians Use Media to Win Elections

Politicians and their staffs know more about how news on politics is reported than some people who work in media. They can use that knowledge to manipulate reporters and news coverage to boost their campaigns. Some may host phony news conferences, while others may go on the attack against the media to try to impress voters. By knowing their tricks, you can guard against being used.

Learn The Basics of Political Polls

During an election year, political polls are released almost daily. When you report on the numbers, know the basics of these statistical surveys so that you can help your audience make sense of where the race stands. That means understanding the sample size, the margin of error and why some polls are more statistically accurate than others.

Focus on Campaign Issues When Reporting on Candidates

Most voters say that when it comes to getting news on politics, what they want to know most of all is where the candidates stand on the issues. To answer these questions, you have to understand the issues yourself. Know how to find out from voters which issues they think are most important. That way, a candidate won't be able to fool you into thinking his pet issue is also the top concern of your audience.

Learn How to Cover Election Night

You will spend the entire campaign season getting yourself ready for election night. By mastering poll numbers, issues, ethics and the political process, you'll be able to think on your feet during a long election night. Your skills will be put to the test because you won't have time to compose a script. You will need to know how to gather information quickly, analyze it and present it on-air or online because your audience will demand instantaneous coverage.