Journalist’s Advice: Covering the Candidates


Hello everyone!

Can’t wait to see all of you next Friday. Many of you have drafts in different stages of editing, and several have accepted pieces just waiting to be scheduled. Please bring drafts with you next week so we can get a head start on ideas and columns. After our meeting, we will have just one additional month together.

Why is it important? A reminder of The OpEd Project vision: “… to create a sea change in our world’s conversation by empowering a wave of new voices to join the important public conversations of our age, to take our equal place as narrators of the world, and to encourage and refer others to do the same—creating a multiplier effect that will alter the patterns of under-representation in media inboxes and outlets, and expand the earth’s talent pool.”

This week the political world provided a perfect example. No matter what you think about her politics, Hillary Clinton’s elevation as the Democratic Party’s presidential candidate made history, and forced many to think of something they had not before – a woman as the leader of the free world.

To judge from the reactions, some are having trouble with the concept. RNC chair Reince Priebus chided Hillary Clinton after the commander-in-chief forum. He noted that she needed to “smile.” Though Clinton herself had a good comeback – “actually, that’s just what taking the office of President seriously looks like” – other voices were quick to respond: from a fact check that showed she actually did smile more than Donald Trump to endless snarky tweets. Trump himself said of Clinton: “I just don’t think she has a presidential look. And you need a presidential look.”

Washington Post columnist Ruth Marcus summarized it: “The remarks are worth noting not only because of what they tell us about Trump & Co., but also because they illustrate some of the gender-based challenges that Hillary Clinton confronts as she seeks to become the nation’s first female president, and that she would continue to face in office.”

As I covered Hillary Clinton’s rally at historically black Johnson C. Smith University, I was focused on what she said, as she “called out the state’s restrictive voter ID law, recently tossed out as discriminatory against African-Americans by a federal court. A ‘blast from the Jim Crow past,’ she called it.”

And as I read the reports of both candidates this past week, it again reminded me how important it is to hear from a variety of voices.

If you don’t tell your story, someone else will – and will almost always get it wrong.

We’re leaving you with a piece that gets it right. It places a polarizing figure in historical and social context rather than demonizing or presenting a particular point of view:

Sermonizing in Pearls: Phyllis Schlafly and the Women’s History of the Religious Right” in the LA Review of Books and written by one of my facilitator colleagues, Neil J. Young.

Happy writing and see you soon,

Mary & Amy

Periodically we share wisdom from our team with our community. The above letter was sent as a weekly missive to the Public Voices Fellowship cohort at Cornell University from leader Mary C. Curtis.

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