Just a few weeks ago Kansas gained a new news-oriented website. State of the State Kansas is different from most news sites, as it focuses on providing long-format video coverage of issues and candidates. Rebecca Zepick founded State of the State Kansas. I visited with her last week and learned about the site and its goals.
What inspired you to start the State of the State Kansas website?
Zepick said that while working on John McCain’s presidential campaign, she handled booking campaign spokespeople — and even McCain and his wife — with statewide media in Iowa and other states. She found that television stations didn’t have political reporters. They had just general assignment reporters. So while she prepared her spokespeople for the toughest questions, reporters would ask simple questions like “How do you think John McCain is doing in Iowa?”
These questions were easy for the campaign to deal with, but didn’t do a lot to provide the public with useful information. There wasn’t much analysis and skepticism.
Additionally, producers were more interested in booking celebrities rather than discussing issues, but I thought that people were interested in the issues. “There has to be an underlying base of education for the general public, so that when a campaign comes along, you can have an intelligent discussion about policy issues.”
Sometimes news seems to focus on the “horse race” aspect of campaigns — who’s up or down in the polls, etc.
That type of coverage is easy to provide, she said. What’s more difficult to provide is educational content, and that is one of the site’s goals.
Since State of the State Kansas contains primarily video content, what is different about video as compared to print or radio?
There’s nothing like seeing a candidate face-to-face and watching them, to see if candidates know what they’re talking about and if they’re being evasive. With the video on State of the State Kansas, viewers can see a longer interview, and people can get to better know the motivations behind the candidates.
What’s involved in processing the video you capture during an interview?
Zepick said the hardware (Apple Macintosh computers) and software (the simpler version of a video editing program) she uses is inexpensive. The amount of time it takes to edit varies, depending on whether one or two cameras are used, and if slides with questions are edited into the video. But if required, video can be put on the site very quickly.
From what I’ve seen of your site, it looks like you’ll select an issue, and then have speakers from both sides of the issue.
Zepick said that in order to remove as much personal bias as possible, she asks simple questions such as “Why do you feel so strongly about this?” Then, let them explain themselves with as little interference from the reporter as possible. For now, Zepick says she’s letting segments run long so that people can become educated and investigate issues for themselves.
I asked a question about how it seems that often people on different sides of an issue can’t even agree on a basic set of facts. Zepick said that can be a problem. Suppose an interview subject cites a statistic. If she is not an expert in the subject matter, her hope is that other media sources will be able to watch the videos and call out inaccuracies. This is also why it’s important to talk to both sides. Personal stories are different, however, as they are based on experiences, not objective facts.
What about the declining resources available to traditional news media?
Television and newspapers have seen a decline in viewers and advertising, she said. This may have lead to a decline in some aspects of news coverage such a longer feature pieces. That, however, has lead to an increase in the ratings for shows like “60 Minutes,” which feature longer and more in-depth reporting.
Zepick mentioned the term “fractured media,” and that people may be confused as to which are reliable sources for news. But in a democracy, she said, the more voices, the better. It’s more confusing than in the days of the three major networks, but ultimately better for the people.
From Zepick’s experience working on major political campaigns, I learned that the typical campaign interview we see on television is not a freewheeling affair. Usually ground rules are established, such as the topics to be talked about — and topics not to be covered.