Sunday, June 03, 2007

One Veteran Reporter Talks Candidate Coverage

There is a misconception that the media, of all shades and colors--print, broadcast, whatever--is responsible to cover all candidates, regardless of the local race.

I was the editor of a community-based newspaper for four years and I gave coverage to those candidates in my readership area to a degree far beyond anything else in Pittsburgh.

Over the years I've also been in other newsrooms, from radio to newspaper (my experience in these matters really started in Portage, Pennsylvania, in 1982). The fact of the matter is, the "big guys" from newspapers, TV to radio in town don't cover "niche" candidates because they don't sell newspapers, don't generate "must listen" radio.

For the most part, "niche" candidates are in it for the vanity. This is not the case for our dear friend Mark Rauterkus, who operates this very blog. The fact of that matter is, Mark is more dedicated to many ideas that just don't ring all that vital with editors of our newspapers, television or radio stations. And when it comes to radio interviews, he cannot speak in the soundbites and use the buzz words that make for a good broadcast (sorry, Mark).

Remember when Richard Caliguiri used to run for Congress every two years? He bankrolled a back page, full-page advertisement in the City Paper (or maybe it was the other entertainment weekly I can't remember that has since shuddered)? Caliguiri, who claimed to be a distant relative to the former Mayor of Pittsburgh (but their names with spelled with inverted "i's" and "u's") was the last great Independent candidate in the city.

He created a firestorm with that picture, naked and in the "Thinker's" pose. Who knows whatever happened to Mr. Caliguiri? I ran stories on him, and when he announced his candidacy two years after that first race, Congressman Mike Doyle told the electronic media that I broke the story. (I was also in my 20's and was eager to make a name for myself. Those opportunities just don't exist in 2007, especially when most people do it via blogs like this one.)

Caliguiri spent his own money for the picture and the advertisement. Before and after that race, he would only be referred to as the kooky guy who always runs, using the former Mayor's name. I have an audio tape from election day 1988 when my friend Padre George Saletrik and I were analyzing returns at our California University of Pennsylvania college radio station. Rev. Saletrik, then 20 or 21, knew of Caliguiri only because he was the "kooky guy who always runs."

The real thing is money. The media is in no way, shape or form, responsible to cover these candidates. To think otherwise is absolute, fundamental delirium. In fact, Mark and I have talked about this over and over again. He knew that I was "the guy" who covered the "fringe" candidates back in the day, but I also know why no one ever does it anymore.

Money. Period. End of Discussion...okay, maybe a little more.

Ross Perot was the standard bearer for off-beat, non-traditional candidates because he was a billionaire throwing a tantrum with his own billions.

If an Independent or Republican--especially in the city--is to ever be taken seriously, they will have to establish themselves as major fundraisers (or wealthy enough to make a name for themselves...and apparently that "grass-roots" candidate does not exist). Otherwise, they are considered vanity seekers or kooks. Guys like Mark have good ideas...but they won't fly without serious support from the taxpaying public: fundraising.

In the city, Republicans have almost exclusively run candidates who never spent a moment seriously raising money. Bob Hillen and Joe Weinroth have asked for money in the recent past, but few others have ever broached the subject.

Republicans who run for office in the city also almost always disappear into the ether after losing one race. Even the talented ones. It's just that disheartening when you work against a Democratic party that rules with an iron fist.

I am one of those guys who have been asked to run several times. I have even considered it, but alas, I would be in the race to win, and there's no chance that I could win over the fact that I'm a Republican living in the city. And I don't have my own money to flaunt, and have no interest in making countless telephone calls to potential donors. That's the only way to be taken seriously. Background folks should run the websites, post the video blogs, etc.

On a national level, Libertarians had their moment in the sun about a decade ago (Western Pennsylvania over the past 17 years or so have only had idealists running as Libs). Since then, they have completely fallen off the political landscape. Long thought of as only champions of legalized marijuana, the local Libertarian party is filled with highly-intelligent people who should be behind the scenes of someone else's campaign.

Again, I have covered the kooks, vanity seekers, and dreamers (thank God for guys like our friend Mark...his passion is unmatched), and would do it again if I was in charge of the editorial content of some sort of newspaper.

But I'm not and, perhaps unfortunately, there's no reason for anyone else to cover the "unconventional," unless, like Richard Caliguiri, they put their money where there ass is.

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