If Only The ND Media Put As Much Effort Into Covering Government As They Put Into Covering Football Games


Considering this a bit of an addendum to my post yesterday about pay for public officials versus pay for football and hockey coaches.

Today my social media feeds are full of dispatches from North Dakota reporters and media types extolling their coverage of the NDSU Bison championship game in Texas which, apparently, the Bison won.

That’s great for Bison football fans, but it’s interesting to see the contrast in the amount of media coverage given to a football game and the amount of coverage given to important political events. And I’m not just talking about elections, either. The media, even as they look down their pointy noses at “mud slinging” and such in editorials, loves a good, nasty political fight. It sells newspapers, and attracts eyeballs, but it may as well be entertainment news. Election coverage tells us very little about how politicians govern.

Rather, I’m talking about day-to-day coverage of how we hare governed.

Forum Communications, for instance, sent a team of photographers and reporters to Texas to cover the big game. They’ve got on-the-ground reporting, complete with video and audio reports. The coverage is, in a word, massive.

Yet last month when Governor Jack Dalrymple was delivering his executive budget to the legislature, the platform upon which most of the policies and spending priorities that will govern our state for the next two years will be built, Forum Communications didn’t have a single reporter in Bismarck for it. The one reporter who covered it for the media company which owns most of the state’s newspapers – the Fargo Forum’s Ryan Johnson – watched the governor’s speech on the internet. Multiple policymakers noted to me the absence of a single Forum Communications reporter in Bismarck for the proceedings.

In fact, Forum Communications hasn’t had a full-time capitol reporter in Bismarck for months, not since reporter Teri Finneman took a leave of absence.

Looking at the masthead for the Fargo Forum, there is a dedicated section for the half dozen sports reporters/editors employed by the paper, which is nearly as many as the eight reporters dedicated for all the other types of news (less than half of which ever write articles pertaining to government or politics).

But this isn’t unique to the Fargo Forum, or Fargo media in general. The Grand Forks Herald has more resources for covering hockey games than government.

If you’ve ever wondered why political and government reporting in North Dakota doesn’t go much beyond re-hashing the press releases candidates and officials send out, that’s why. The political reporters don’t have near the resources given to the sports reporters.

And this isn’t unique to North Dakota. Nationally, sports/entertainment topics get a lot more coverage and attention than political topics most of the time. President Obama’s soft-media strategy was based on this phenomena, as I’ve noted before. Obama didn’t go to People Magazine and Jay Leno for softball questions. He went to People Magazine and Jay Leno because that’s where the reader/viewers are.

I could blame “the media” for that, but really it’s our fault. We’re the people who care more about football games than tax policy, and that’s reflected in our news consumption. Forum Communications cares more about the NDSU Bison winning a football game than they do about how much the state government is going to spend in the next biennium because covering one is a hell of a lot more profitable than covering the other.

People always want to know what’s wrong with government. Why is it so dysfunctional? Why are they so corrupt? How do they get away with it all?

This phenomena is a big reason why.