Journalists at the workshop in Dnipropetrovs'k.

Pre-Election Planning Key for Coverage Ukrainian Journalists in Two Workshops Told

Pre-election planning is a key for good election coverage, 28 journalists working in cities in eastern and central Ukraine were advised in two separate workshops in late March and early April.

The workshops, held in Dnipropetrovs'k and Vynnytsia, were a collaboration between the James M. Cox Jr. Center for International Mass Communication Training and Research at the University of Georgia and IREX U-Media, a training center located in the Ukrainian capital of Kyiv.

"Plan, plan, plan, but be flexible," Barbara Stinson, editorial page editor of The (Macon, Georgia) Telegraph and an expert on coverage of local elections, told the journalists. She advised holding meetings as far in advance of the elections as three months to decide how to allocate staff resources to the campaign and to identify issues that will be covered.

"With limited resources, you have to have a plan in writing in advance," Stinson told the journalists.

Cox Center Director Dr. Lee B. Becker encouraged the journalists to find ways to learn about the issues that are of concern to the electorate. "Don't let politicians control the issue agenda of the campaign," Dr. Becker said. Rather, he said, journalists should control the issue agenda "as representatives of the audience."

The workshops were organized by IREX U-Media and the Cox Center to help Ukrainian journalists in the run-up to planned autumn presidential elections. As the workshops were being held, however, the Ukrainian parliament, the Rada, and incumbent President Leonid Kuchma were discussing constitutional changes that might result in fundamental changes in the presidency and even the elections themselves.

Each of the workshops lasted for two days. In Dnipropetrovs'k, 15 editors and reporters participated in the discussions of pre-election and post-election coverage of campaigns, of legal issues involved in election coverage, and of the use of political polls. In Vynnytsia, 13 journalists joined in the discussion of these topics.

Stinson showed the journalists examples of pre-election guides, published by the Macon paper to help voters understand the candidates and the issues as well as the technical aspects of the ballot and the voting process. Tim O'Connor, Print Media Adviser for the IREX program in Ukraine, and Oleg Khomenok, a Ukrainian media consultant working with IREX, showed election guides prepared by IREX as examples for Ukrainian journalists.

In Dnipropetrovs'k, IREX legal expert Tatiana Kotyuzhinska answered questions about laws relevant to coverage of elections, while Lyuda Pankratova, another IREX legal adviser, handled questions on access to information and defamation in Vynnytsia.

Dr. Becker, an expert on social science research methodologies, including those used in polling, discussed the basics of sampling and interpretation of data from polls. He advised the journalists to require those releasing data from polls in elections to be transparent in explaining procedures used and to give particular attention to the wording of questions asked in the polls. Differently worded questions can produce very different answers, he noted.

Stinson suggested that journalists create a report card several months after the election in which candidate promises from the campaign are compared with performance. In all the election coverage, she said, "the voters should drive what you concentrate on."

Stinson began her career as a feature write for the Macon Telegraph and has since held various management positions for the paper. She has been features and city editor, managing editor, presentations editor, research and development editor, and administrative editor, which involved personnel management and budgeting. She assumed her position as editorial page editor in September 2003 and reports directly to the paper's publisher.

She is founding board member of the Georgia First Amendment Foundation and was president of the Georgia Press Association in 2002 and 2003. She earned her journalism degree from the University of Georgia.

The Cox Center is a unit of the Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication at the University of Georgia. Prior to the election coverage workshop, it conducted programs in collaboration with IREX in Ukraine in Yalta, Kyiv, L'viv and Uzhhorod on audience research, on coverage of environmental health, and on journalism education.

Following the election workshops, Dr. Becker met in Kyiv with Dr. Larissa Nizhegorodtsevg, vice rector of international contacts at Luts'k Liberal Arts University, and Olga Kulish, a journalism instructor at the Luts'k University, to discuss the possibility of future collaboration. Kulish also is first deputy director of Volyn StateTV and Radio Company and was a visiting scholar in the Cox Center in the spring of 2003. Kulish's visit to the Cox Center was sponsored by the IREX Contemporary Issues program.

Dr. Becker also met with Susan Folger, chief of the Internews Network in Ukraine, to learn about the procedures Internews has put into place to evaluate its media training program in Ukraine from 2004 to 2008. Dr. Becker has been working with the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation in Miami on evaluation of international training programs.