A panel of professional journalists gathered virtually on Saturday to discuss election reporting at the Student Journalism Symposium hosted by Cal State Fullerton’s College of Communications.
Bey-Ling Sha, dean of the College of Communications, led the meeting that offered advice on writing stories covering an election and correctly reporting information.
The webinar opened with a presentation from Matthew Hall, the president of the Society of Professional Journalists, a journalism organization, who works as the editorial and opinion director for The San Diego Union-Tribune.
Hall discussed the importance for journalists to stay above the fray and engage with critics despite facing every day attacks on their work and character.
“You can get into a Twitter fight or engage someone who’s being a jerk, or you can spend that time doing journalism: do the journalism,” Hall said. “We can’t make mistakes on our own on social media.”
Hall encouraged reporters to manage their mental health and that it was OK to need a break.
Reporters also shared the aspects of election coverage they were recently focusing on and what issues are playing a relevant impact on the November election.
Since the COVID-19 pandemic has heavily impacted elections, Arit John, a Los Angeles Times staff writer, said she is reporting on how different states are changing its laws on voting remotely and the controversy surrounding it.
John said each candidate is trying to figure out how to make voters feel safer based on topics like the economy and the Black Lives Matter movement.
“I think for most voters it’s going to be a gut check of ‘Who do I feel safe with?’ and if you don’t think that either candidate is going to make you feel safer, then you might just stay home,” she said.
Laura Barrón-López, a national political reporter at Politico, focuses on various demographic groups that make up the electorate and what presidential candidates are doing to reach certain demographics.
Barrón-López said reporters should be paying attention to disinformation campaigns from conspiracy groups, and teaching their readers how to identify fake news ahead of the November election.
Voters should be wary of the content on Facebook or Instagram and to do their due diligence and be skeptical of the memes and videos without primary or expert sources, Barrón-López said.
Quinn Owen, an ABC news reporter based in Washington D.C. who focuses on immigration policy, said that the presidential election will significantly impact the border wall and the Department of Homeland Security’s restrictions.
Vania Patino, a reporter with KFDA News Channel 10 based in Texas and CSUF alum, said people are worried about not being able to pay rent due to the pandemic.
The panelists also shared advice on remaining objective during an extremely divisive election season.
John said it’s important to recognize one’s own biases. She said it’s important for reporters to interview both politicians and potential voters but to treat each group differently.
When talking to voters, John said she feels it’s important to keep in mind that she may be talking to someone with a completely different background.
“Understand that even if you disagree with how that person thinks, that is how they feel and they are a human being and they are going to read that story when it comes and their family is going to read it,” John said. “It’s one thing if you say and report what they said and why they think that and you’re fair about it, and another thing to take cheap shots at people.”
Barrón-Lopez gave tips on getting in touch with sources via social media, and how it was a great tool for reporters tracking down people with a variety of opinions.
“Twitter, Instagram, any way you think that you can contact a source you should do it. You shouldn’t be shy about it. You should just DM them. Even at the national level, I would DM senators and house lawmakers, if those DMs are open, and it works!” Barrón-Lopez said.
While social media can be an asset when reporting a story the panel also discussed being aware of misinformation, which can spread quickly throughout different platforms.
“If there is disinformation on social media, if there are lies being spouted by politicians, if there is inaccurate information being pushed out by people in power, that is your job to check that. It is your job to say on social media this is fake, this is not a fact, this is harmful and inaccurate information,” Barrón-Lopez said.
The last question the panel of journalists received was what they thought the best reasons to go into journalism were.
“I think the best way to think about going into journalism is to think of it as a public service,” Owen said. “I think everyone needs to start focusing on where the stories are that matter.”