October 8, 2008

Today's Front Pages Analysis

Presidential debate: Community paper makes national story its own

For 90 minutes Tuesday night, John McCain and Barack Obama answered questions in a town-hall debate at Belmont University in Tennessee.

The presidential debate was the first ever to be held in Nashville, and the question for the community newspaper, The Tennessean, was: How are we going to own the story?

The Tennessean started by providing readers information in the days leading up to the debate. A blog by a higher education reporter shared all things debate and was republished in the next day’s print edition. By Tuesday afternoon, a debate splash page reported political appearances and media and celeb sightings, along with traffic updates and how-to-navigate-town information. A slideshow examined past candidates’ visits to the area, a game asked viewers to match a candidate’s face with a quote, and video highlighted comments from a women voters’ roundtable held earlier at the Freedom Forum’s First Amendment Center.

By 6 p.m. Eastern time, the site posted “Debate Day” photos, a story noted Tennessee Sen. Lamar Alexander’s advice for McCain, and the blogger signed off to head to debate hall. By 7 p.m., pundits and Nashvillians weighed in, and the site noted excitement by Belmont neighbors. At 8 p.m., new photos and streaming video from a debate event at the Ryman Auditorium were added. When the presidential candidates appeared on stage with moderator Tom Brokaw at 9 p.m., streaming video of the debate began.

By 10 p.m., The Tennessean posted an AP story on candidates’ comments on the causes and cures for the economic crisis. When it was all said and done, debate reaction was reported in more streaming video by 11 p.m.

By the time the printed Tennessean was dropped at doorsteps, Tennessean.com’s homepage was divided into thirds to report on “Nashville,” “The Main Event” and “Yesterday in Review.” Stories included an analysis and fact-checking; yesterday’s events around Belmont were reported on video; the night’s festivities were chronicled in photos; polls tallied “Who won” and “Who had the best answer;” and comments from four undecided voters were charted in “Did they change any minds?”

But the Web features weren’t the only special treatment given the debate. A large photo and the headline “Seeking Trust” filled The Tennessean’s front page. “Barack Obama and John McCain, in their Belmont debate, paced the floor, exchanged barbs and tried to connect with worried voters,” said The Tennessean, referring to images and reaction inside.

And, as if to promise more, it added at the bottom of the page: “27 days until election.”

Economy as the key word … As USA Today reported “$2 trillion wiped out of retirement funds” in the last 15 months, newspapers noted that the failing economy was the main debate headline. “Town hall questions make it clear … It’s the economy, senators,” the Chicago Tribune said. “Economy rules,” pronounced the Hattiesburg (Miss.) American. The Star-Ledger of Newark, N.J., called it “Wrestling over the economy.” “Economy in the spotlight,” noted the Springfield (Mo.) News-Leader. And said the Omaha (Neb.) World-Herald: “Tottering economy at center stage.”

Kate Kennedy is front-pages editor at the Newseum.


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