Jason Lange on covering the U.S. midterm elections
Last week, the U.S. held the widely anticipated 2018 midterm elections. For months leading up to November 6th, Reuters covered all aspects of the highly debated elections – from hot-button policy issues such as gun control and tax reform, to in-depth analysis on new shifts in public opinion and its effect on votes and turnout. In a Reuters Best: Journalist Spotlight Q&A, Correspondent Jason Lange offers a behind-the-scenes look at how the team covered the story.
Q. What was your role in covering the midterm elections? How did the team work together on coverage?
A. I did a combination of data journalism and more traditional reporting. I helped gather and organize data to identify trends that were important for the political races – and places where we could tell stories around those trends. We often teamed up on stories so we would have reporters with complementary skills – or because the desired analysis was ambitious enough that we needed to divvy it up.
Q. What were some of our big wins?
A. We assembled the most comprehensive look this year on Republican messaging on immigration, which became a dominant campaign theme. Bringing together political ad data, interviews with candidates and a deep analysis of the Twitter feeds of Republican lawmakers, we documented how Republican messaging on immigration has grown much more harsh under President Trump. We also took a close and systematic look at Republican communications to identify the candidates that avoided making any statements in support of Trump. The trend of Republicans putting distance between themselves and the president was one Trump decried the day after the election and no one else documented it as comprehensively as Reuters.
Q. What types of reporting were involved?
A. We had a great mix of reporters and editors. Our beat reporters already had relationships with key lawmakers and their aides on Capitol Hill. The data journalists built a database that the whole team could use to generate story ideas and which we could also mine for investigative stories. We also put a big premium on traveling to get the views of people on the ground and had reporters who were very experienced storytellers.
Q. What was the hardest part of the reporting?
A. It’s always a challenge to move quickly and do deep reporting at the same time. Midterms reporting is extremely competitive and promising findings can quickly become outdated. This meant long hours when we nailed down an angle for a story.
Q. Why was this an important story to tell our customers?
A. The outcome of the midterms will help define Trump’s ability to move legislation through the U.S. Congress and will be important for the strength of his hand in his 2020 re-election bid. Media consumers around the world want to know where America is going, while investors in everything from bonds to soy beans need intelligence on the outlook for political risk.
Q. What makes you passionate about journalism?
A. Journalism is important to me because it’s a chance to serve the general public interest. We can help our readers by uncovering information or by lending clarity to complex situations.
Q. What is your beat and what do you find most fulfilling about it?
A. I’m a member of our economics team but this year I had the chance to spend much of my time working on midterms coverage. As a data journalist on midterms coverage, I was able to work with a lot of great reporters to cover a very consequential set of events.
Q. What have been your most rewarding experiences as a journalist?
A. It is extremely rewarding to uncover new information that might make a difference. I’ve received documents pointing to espionage at the U.S. central bank, triggering a congressional probe. I hope some of the midterms stories I helped write gave voters new information that helped them make decisions.
Q. Can you imagine being anything other than a journalist? If so, what?
A. I don’t see myself leaving journalism though I can imagine putting full-time focus on data reporting.