TeleDemocracy Project 1999

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It would be easy, as we approach the next millenium, to dismiss the importance
of our electoral process. Voter turn-out is at an all time low, candidate scandals
are splashed across screens and papers, campaign financing has many believing
that their vote does not mean a thing. Despite the cry of cynics, Community
Media Center has decided to embark on yet another project putting faith in the
public and media tools in their hands. Information is the currency of Democracy.

The TeleDemocracy Project is a result of the demise of the local League of
Women Voters, whom we partnered with for years to provide public access to candidate
forums. Today the project has evolved into collaboration between the many affiliates
of the Community Media Center (CMC) and public partners.

GrandNet has created and maintained a TeleDemocracy website; GRTV produces
and broadcasts voter & candidate forums; WYCE promotes these activities over
the radio; and GRIID continued its analysis of local commercial TV news election
coverage in addition to coordinating the overall project.

What follows is a summary of the TeleDemocracy Project for 1999. We welcome
your input on what took place in the Grand Rapids community this past election
cycle and invite you to help us prepare for the 2000 elections with comments
and ideas.

“A popular government without popular information, or the means of acquiring it, is but a prologue to a farce or a tragedy, or perhaps both.” – James Madison


Candidate Forums/GRTV Broadcasts

Tele-Democracy Kick-Off LIVE
1.5 *
TAPE Mayoral Forum
4.5 *
2nd Ward Forum
10 *
3rd Ward Forum
10 *
Tele-Democracy project
3.5 *
Chamber of
Commerce Candidates Forum (2 hour show)
—8/20 9:30 am
—8/25 9:30 am
—8/25 5:00 pm
—9/13 1:30 pm
City High
Candidate Forum (1 hour show)
—9/7 3:00 pm
—9/8 5:00 pm
—9/10 10:00 am
—9/11 2:00 pm
Community Empowerment TV did
three 1/2 hour shows featuring candidates
Total hours of GRTV candidate/elections
broadcasting (Primary Election)
43 hrs
* TeleDemocracy hrs.
General Election
2nd Ward Forum
4 *
3rd Ward Forum
4 *
Aquinas College Candidates
4 *
East GR Bond
Campaign (1 hour show)
—10/16 2:00 pm
—10/22 10:30 am
—10/25 9:30 am
—11/1 2:00 pm
(plus the 1/2 hour special
that aired once)*
Time to Talk did one 1 hour
show featuring candidates
Total hours
of GRTV candidate/elections broadcasting
—(General Election)
—TeleDemocracy hrs.

Total combined GRTV broadcasting of candidate/election programming for Primary
& General Election cycle – 60 hrs. 30 min.

Total combined GRTV broadcasting of candidate/elections programming for Primary
and General Election cycle from the TeleDemocracy Project 1999 – 42 hrs.


Community Partnerships

In many ways Community Partnerships are what drive projects like this. Clearly
we relied on some long-standing partnerships to develop the TeleDemocracy Project,
but new relationships were also created.

  • To create more awareness about voter registration and voter participation
    we produced a show with the City Clerk from Grand Rapids.
  • To promote citizen participation in local electoral politics we highlighted
    and linked our website with the GR Public Library’s publication “They Represent
  • We also linked web users to other related election/citizen participation
    sites at the State and Federal level.
  • Many neighborhood and community groups partnered with us to host/organize
    candidate forums:

    • Creston Neighborhood Association
    • East Hills Council of Neighbors
    • Heritage Hill Association
    • Garfield Park Neighborhood Association
    • South East Community Association
    • Eastown Community Association
    • Fulton Heights Neighborhood Association
    • Midtown Neighborhood Association
    • North East Citizens Action Association
    • North End Neighborhood Association
    • South East End Neighborhood Association
    • Sheldon Complex
    • Palmer PTA
    • Palmer Elementary School
    • Aquinas College


Local TV News Election Coverage –
(October 1 – November 1, 1999 Study)

WXMI/FOX 17 (10:00pm News)

Date Issues
of story
Oct. 30
Holland arena bond vote

WZZM 13/ABC (6 & 11pm News)

Date Issues
of story
Oct. 1 – 6pm
Voter registration deadline
15 sec.
Oct. 26 – 6pm
GR 3rd Ward race
Oct. 26 – 11pm
GR 2nd Ward race
30 sec.
Nov. 1 – 11pm
Holland arena bond vote
40 sec.
4 stories

WOOD 8/NBC (6 & 11pm News)

Date Issues
of story
Oct. 26 – 6pm
GR 2nd Ward race
15 sec.
Oct. 26 – 11pm
GR 2nd Ward race
Oct. 22 – 11pm
GR City Comm. Candidate campaign expenses
36 sec.
Oct. 28 – 6pm
Holland arena bond vote
Oct. 28 – 11pm
GR 3rd Ward race
Oct. 28 – 11pm
Holland arena bond vote
Nov. 1 – 11pm
Grandville City Council
58 sec.
7 stories
Totals for all 3 stations 12 stories 12:29

Who was given voice in this years election coverage from October 1 – November
1, 1999?

  • WXMI FOX 17:
    • Citizen Initiative Group rep. (WM) – for arena bond
    • WM & WF no names given/Holland residents – for arena bond
    • WM & WF no names given/Holland residents – opposed to arena bond
  • WZZM 13:
    • Robert Dean (BM) 3rd Ward candidate
    • William Blickley (WM) 3rd Ward candidate
    • BF resident of 3rd Ward
    • BM resident of 3rd Ward
  • WOOD TV 8:
    • WM resident of 2nd Ward
    • Richard Tormala (WM) 2nd Ward candidate
    • Marge Byington (WF) 2nd Ward candidate
    • Holland Mayor (WM) for arena bond
    • WF Holland resident opposed to arena bond
    • WM Holland resident for arena bond
    • WM Aquinas student
    • Robert Dean (BM) 3rd Ward candidate
    • William Blickley (WM) 3rd Ward candidate
    • Holland Mayor (WM) for arena bond
    • Grandville City Councilman Bouma (WM)

Gender totals of those who spoke: 12 White Males, 4 White Females, 3 Black
Males & 1 Black Female.

Total times that candidates spoke: Robert Dean 2, William Blickley 2, Richard
Tormala 1, Marge Byington 1, Grandville Councilman Bouma 1.

Total times that citizens spoke: 10

Total of stories on candidate races or bond proposals:

  • Holland arena bond vote – 4
  • GR 2nd Ward race – 3
  • GR 3rd Ward race – 2
  • GR City Comm candidate campaign expenses – 1
  • Voter registration – 1
  • Grandville City Council race – 1

In comparison to other news stories covered during the same time period Oct.
1 – Nov. 1, 1999 (all 3 stations combined)

  • 8 stories about the opening of the Rivertown Crossings Mall
  • 18 stories about the death of Pro Golfer Payne Stewart
  • 28 stories about a Muskegon teenager on trial as a possible accomplice in

Candidates, races & ballot proposals receiving no coverage:

  • GR City Comm. Ward 1
  • GR Library Comm.
  • Kent County 17th District race
  • East Grand Rapids Mayor, City Comm. & 4 ballot proposals
  • Wyoming City Council & ballot proposal
  • Walker Mayor, City Comm. & ballot proposals
  • Kentwood City Council
  • Grandville City Council
  • Not to mention the Lake Shore, Holland, Muskegon and many other surrounding
    communities with elections that fall within the viewing area of the 3 commercial
    stations in this study


Grand Rapids Voter Turnout Statistics (General Election 1999)

  • Ballots cast – Ward 1: 4,856 – 13.10%
  • Ballots cast – Ward 2: 6,017 – 14.05%
  • Ballots cast – Ward 3: 6,361 – 15.31%
  • Total Ballots cast: 17, 234 – 14.19%


Local TV News Election Coverage Recommendations

  • Any and all race/ballot proposals could be given at least some coverage, even if it is just a mention
    of who is running or what the proposal is.
  • Viewers could be given information about voter guides that have been published.
  • Produce video Voters Guides featuring all candidates in all races for multiple replays.
  • All candidate forums could be announced for several days prior to the event.
  • Candidate forums could be broadcast live or re-broadcast at a future time that would be announced.
  • Candidates who wanted to engage in debates could be given free airtime for at a minimum 30 minutes per race.
  • 5% of the money made from campaign ads could be donated by the stations to an independent, non-partisan
    organization to fill the void left by the League of Women Voters or to help resurrect the League.
  • Financial funding of candidates should be reported on before and after all races. (How much and from what sources).
  • Don’t just tell us where candidates were, but what they were saying.
  • Explore in more detail reasons for low voter turnout.
  • Use station web sites for more detailed coverage.
  • Operate in the public interest, convenience, and necessity.