This first appeared in Columbia Journalism Review.
One of the shameful things about Florida’s US Senate race is that the two candidates, Democratic incumbent Bill Nelson and Republican challenger, Congressman Connie Mack, agreed to meet in just one debate.
That statewide television debate was Wednesday night. And while it was extensively covered by the media, I was amazed that some of the state’s newspapers did not put their stories on the front page Thursday morning.
My view is that in making that choice, they did a serious disservice to Florida voters. This is an important race not only for Floridians but for the nation, as the contest could help determine which political party will control the US Senate.
It’s true that the content of the hour-long debate left much to be desired (the candidates argued at length about a tax credit for cows on Nelson’s property, and whether Mack was claiming more than one homestead exemption), but as an editor I would have done what most Florida newspapers did—played the debate story prominently on A1.
Editors at The Palm Beach Post, The Miami Herald, and the Tallahassee Democrat took a different route, pushing their stories to the inside pages. The clear signal to readers was that these newspapers did not deem the debate—and by extension, the Senate race—important, and perhaps neither should the readers.