Effective partnerships with print and electronic media are essential to ensuring that a debate reaches a wide audience. But negotiating with the media can be challenging.
The National Democratic Institute, a nonprofit, nongovernmental Washington-based think tank, offers the following about partnering with the media. This is the last in a series of three articles about debates and has been edited for length and clarity.
Competition among media outlets may reduce their willingness to collaborate with debate planners. Planners may find it helpful to negotiate media coverage of debates through media associations that represent all outlets.
To help prevent tensions between candidates and the media, highlight the criteria used to select moderators and panelists, and explain how the selection process was designed to respect both the journalists and the debate.
Consult with the media before scheduling a debate to avoid conflict with other scheduled major events that could distract both media and audience from your event.
The media may ask planners to pay for broadcast airtime for the debate. Convince broadcast media outlets that their contribution of the airtime is good public relations.
Prepare agreements with media partners to ensure a common understanding of key aspects of the broadcast, such as:
- Shared objectives — Make mutual commitments to a dignified, impartial forum that treats candidates equally in terms of preparation rooms, lighting, audio, make-up, camera positions and other production details.
- Debate arrangements — Agree on dates, location and format of the debates.
- Commitments — Negotiate details of what the debate planner and the media will contribute. Confirm who will cover the cost of producing the debate broadcast, including building the set, hiring the technical crew and other expenses.
- Debate promotions — Encourage media to run announcements that promote upcoming debates.
- Television and radio feed — Confirm arrangements to distribute the debate via regional, national and/or international networks.
- Campaign ads — Prohibit the airing of paid political ads during commercial breaks in the debate.
- Ownership of broadcast rights — Establish who owns the rights to the debate broadcast, and ensure that it will be made available to more than one media outlet. This can include the use of debate footage for campaign ads and access to footage by civic groups that seek to promote accountability of elected officials.
- A “clean” broadcast — Limit the number of on-screen graphics that may be added, such as news crawls, candidate assessments, or real-time audience reactions to candidate statements. Any of these can be distracting or perceived as biased.