By Texas Tribune Staff, The Texas Tribune
“What you can expect from our elections coverage” was first published by The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan media organization that informs Texans — and engages with them — about public policy, politics, government and statewide issues.
Why are you covering that race and not this one? Why haven’t you reported more about third-party candidates? Why don’t you have election results for my city council race?
The answers to these questions aren’t simple — but as readers, you deserve answers so that you can hold us accountable.
The Texas Tribune’s coverage of elections seeks to empower informed participation in our democracy. We hope to achieve that in five ways.
First, we explain the voting process with election-specific voter guides to help Texans learn what is on the ballot and how to vote. We interview voters, election administrators and election law experts so that we can explain the process, barriers to participation and what happens after the vote is over and the counting begins.
In a state as immense and diverse as Texas, no region, community or group speaks with one voice. We try to represent Texas in all its richness and complexity by highlighting the voices and needs of several undercovered communities in our coverage.
For example, in 2020 we closely covered how voters at Texas Southern University, a historically black school, waited nearly seven hours to vote after polls had closed. This type of coverage is a priority because communities of color — who have historically been denied the right to vote — disproportionately face obstacles to voting.
Second, we let reader questions, comments and feedback inform what issues we cover. Instead of letting only politicians set the agenda, we talk to voters and scrutinize polling data to understand ordinary Texans’ top concerns.
Our readers’ questions and needs help inform our priorities. We want to hear from readers: What do you want to better understand about the election process in Texas? If local, state or congressional elected officials were to successfully address one issue right now, what would you want it to be? What’s at stake for you this election cycle? If we’re missing something, this is your chance to tell us.
Third, we do not merely recount what politicians say, but focus on what they do (or fail to do) for the Texans they represent. We aim to provide historical, legal and other kinds of context so readers can understand and engage with an issue.
For many voters in Texas, participating in their democracy may feel out of reach. Reporting on efforts that make voting and engaging in our democracy harder is a pillar of our accountability work. Despite overwhelming population growth among people of color in the state, their voting power was diminished after lawmakers redrew political maps in 2021. The state also has some of the country’s strictest voting rules, and Republican lawmakers recently passed new restrictions that targeted voting initiatives that were popular among voters of color in 2020.
Republicans have controlled every statewide office since 1999 and both chambers of the Legislature since 2003, so our state politics coverage often will focus on Republican officeholders. But we are strictly nonpartisan and have published many tough stories about Democratic officeholders, including members of Congress, county judges and mayors.
Fourth, we prioritize our coverage where we can be the most helpful. We aren’t able to closely cover all 150 races in the Texas House, 31 in the Texas Senate or 38 for the Texas delegation in the next U.S. House. We need to choose which races we cover closely by using our best judgment of what’s most noteworthy. We generally do not report election results for Texas’ 254 county commissioners courts; 1,218 cities, towns and villages; or 1,200 school boards. However, we will elevate and link to local resources on our website, our social media channels and our newsletters. We will go more in-depth on the races we determine are noteworthy and warrant more coverage.
So how do we decide what we consider noteworthy?
- Power. Races for seats that wield a disproportionate amount of influence over policy decisions will receive more coverage and attention. For example, we closely covered Democrat MJ Hegar’s challenge to U.S. Sen. John Cornyn in 2020 because of the tremendous power wielded by the U.S. Senate and because the seat represents all 30 million Texans.
- Equity. We scrutinize contests and districts in which the outcome of a race will have a disproportionate effect on the interests and participation of communities that have had less political voice. That includes communities of color, rural communities and low-income communities.
- Interest. We focus on what our readers are curious about. Is a race or a candidate catching on for something that is grabbing the attention of the public because it is an oddity or an outlier, or because it is emblematic of a greater theme? This one is squishy and it shouldn’t be construed as clickbait. Just because people are tweeting about it does not mean we have to write about it.
- Competitiveness. Generally, races in which the results are not a foregone conclusion will receive more coverage and attention. In our reporting, we seek to explain why a race is (or isn’t) competitive. Decades of gerrymandering have increasingly created “safe” districts — some of which are so politically one-sided that no one runs against the incumbent. We look at how voters have historically voted, polling, changes to demographics, political trends and the amount of money being spent by the candidates.
Our election coverage goes beyond closely watching individual races. We also look to explain trends, movements and how money influences elections. For example, we will closely watch and cover races across South Texas this year as we try to report on and understand Republicans’ efforts to make inroads with voters in the heavily Hispanic region. We will also closely watch results and voter sentiment among college-educated voters in fast-growing suburbs, which are becoming more competitive for Democrats.
Fifth, we pursue documented, verified facts and combat misinformation and disinformation. In any election cycle, politicians will make claims — some true, some mostly true, some mostly false, some entirely false. Statements will be made that are misleading, incomplete or lack sufficient context. As journalists, our role is to evaluate these claims and give you the necessary context to assess their veracity.
Our role as seekers of truth is important because false information has consequences. So how do we combat false information? Sometimes we choose to not write about misinformation because that can help amplify it. We’re more likely to debunk falsehoods when they are spread by elected officials or used as a justification for policy decisions.
In reporting on falsehoods and exaggerations, we clearly explain why such a claim is untrue and how it may harm Texans. It is more effective to write “there is no evidence of widespread fraud in any Texas county during the 2020 election” instead of writing “voter fraud claims are false.”
We are far from omniscient. We seek the help of experts (scientists, researchers, academics) and we talk to real people, who are experts in the reality of their lives and experiences. We do our homework and do not parrot what one source tells us.
Reporting is difficult. Our pledge is to make our best effort to get this right and give you the context you need to understand the issues politicians are debating and the veracity and significance of the claims they make. When we get something wrong, we will be transparent about changes to our stories and we will always note factual corrections at the bottom of the story and on our corrections page.
What’s missing in this? How does this align with what you see in our coverage? What questions does this leave you with? What issues do you most care about going into this election cycle and what questions do you have about voting? We’d love to hear from you — send us a note at email@example.com or fill out our online form here.
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This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune at https://www.texastribune.org/2022/08/15/texas-tribune-elections-coverage/.
The Texas Tribune is a member-supported, nonpartisan newsroom informing and engaging Texans on state politics and policy. Learn more at texastribune.org.