Monthly Archives: May 2008

NJ Media Covering Women Lawmakers Well, But Less Often

New Jersey’s female legislators won’t find their names in the news as often as their male colleagues, but when the state’s women lawmakers are included in media reports, they generally are treated on a par with men. That’s what I found when I studied media coverage of the record number of women serving in the State Legislature. To read the report, click here.

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Changing Times

Aside from who made the list and who did not, one of the most interesting things about Don Sico’s list of The 10 Best Political Journalists in New Jersey is the type of media that compromise the Top 10.

Three of the slots are filled by television reporters, two are radio journalists and one operates a newsletter that is distributed over the internet. That means only four of the Top 10 work for newspapers — and three of them are columnists. The fourth covers New Jersey-related stories in Washington, D.C.

Newspapers have long been especially important in New Jersey because of way in which most of the television and radio available in the state emanates from New York and Philadelphia. But times have changed. People get their news and information from a variety of sources today – a reality reflected in this list.

NY Follows the Garden State for a Change

New Jersey often plays second fiddle to New York in many areas, among them the media. But it was a New Jersey newspaper to first report that New York Mets manager Willie Randolph had injected race into the discussion about his performance at the helm of the club. After the story ran in the Bergen Record, it became a hot topic for media outlets in New York and beyond.

Reflections on Ted Kennedy

Today’s diagnosis that Senator Ted Kennedy has a malignant brain tumor is sad news for all Americans, regardless of one’s political or ideological persuasion.

Through a strange series of events, I was privileged to write a short quote for Senator Kennedy in 2001 for a press release promoting a campaign stop he was making in New Jersey for Democratic gubernatorial candidate Jim McGreevey. It was just a few sentences and I did not get to work with him directly before the event, but I did have the opportunity to speak with him briefly when he arrived in New Jersey. He was very gracious and I take pride in the fact that I was able to write something for a man who is a true American icon.

News for A Sunday Afternoon – and More

Immigration was a hot topic in early days of the 2008 presidential campaign, but it has since been eclipsed by the economy and other weighty matters such as lapel pins, cleavage and the Rev. Jeremiah Wright.

In New Jersey, however, immigration has returned to the headlines, thanks to comments made by U.S. Attorney Chris Christie.

I’ll leave it to others to debate the pros and cons of what Christie said. On that topic, there is no shortage of opinions.

But from a media perspective, the evolution of this story is intriguing.

First of all, Christie made his comments on a Sunday afternoon at a meeting of a local chapter of the Latino Leadership Alliance of New Jersey. The group met at a church in Dover.

Chapter meetings of the Latino Leadership Alliance are not the sort of the events that the state’s largest newspaper covers on a regular basis, especially when they take place on Sunday afternoons in Morris County. But on this occasion, the Star-Ledger was there. Perhaps it was because Christie was the speaker, although it is not unusual for the state’s U.S. Attorney to have a public speaking engagement. Perhaps it was the topic. Prior to the meeting, event organizers had said Christie was expected to discuss local issues related to immigration. It also is possible that Christie – or his office – let the media know he planned to makes some comments that were likely to generate good copy.

Whatever the reason, the Star-Ledger was there when Christie, a law enforcement official known for his tough stance on crime, made some surprising comments on immigration. According to the newspaper, he said:

Being in this country without proper documentation is not a crime. The whole phrase of “illegal immigrant” connotes that the person, by just being here, is committing a crime.

Don’t let people make you believe that that’s a crime that the U.S. Attorney’s Office should be doing something about. It is not.

He also told the audience an undocumented immigrant is not a criminal unless that person re-enters the country after being deported. He said the problem of undocumented immigration is an administrative matter that U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement should address: If there are undocumented people running around, then Immigration and Customs Enforcement should do their jobs.

Regardless of how one feels about Christie, it is tough to question his ability to use the media effectively. When his office makes arrests, it is not unusual for the press to be there, capturing photos and video images of public officials in handcuffs. Although there have been exceptions, he generally comes across well in news reports. And while he tactfully dodges questions about future political ambitions, his name continues to top the list of potential GOP gubernatorial candidates.

So it is likely that an individual as media savvy as Chris Christie would have known that his comments on immigration were bound to make headlines, especially in Morris County where a local Mayor has long been outspoken on the issue.

And that’s exactly what happened.

Following the Star-Ledger’s initial report, the story was picked up by Associated Press and made its way into several other papers. Then Morristown Mayor Donald C. Cresitello, an advocate for tougher enforcement of immigration laws, demanded that Christie resign, leading to a story in the Daily Record. Next, Christie’s office issued a statement clarifying his comments, generating another Star-Ledger story, as well as an AP report. By the end of the week, the U.S. Attorney’s comments had become the topic for columnists at the Star-Ledger, the Daily Record and politickernj.com.

When I teach public relations, one of the first things I do is have my students read several newspaper articles and try to figure out how each story got into the paper. They usually can easily identify those that stemmed from press releases or conferences, as well those in which a reporter covered breaking news such as a fire or an automobile accident.

What is not so easy to spot is when circumstances and activities below the surface lead to a news report, especially one that has legs like the Christie story. Whether planned or unplanned, this is a textbook example of how a news story evolves—a valuable lesson for public relations practitioners who need to garner news coverage, and perhaps a more valuable lesson for journalists, who need to be aware of attempts to manage and manipulate the media.