Campaigning With the Front-Runner

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With Fox News Channel entering the final
weeks of the 2012 presidential election season
as cable’s most-watched news network, Michael
Clemente, executive vice president
of news, took time out to speak with programming
editor R. Thomas Umstead on
the channel’s upcoming election coverage
strategy, including its plans for this week’s
Democratic National Convention.

MCN: Given Fox News Channel’s position as the
most-watched cable news network, what is the network’s
election coverage strategy?

Michael Clemente: Probably the most important
piece is, every few years things
evolve, so it’s about finding that
perfect balance between what
the event is, who do you have go
down there to report on it, and
then how do you integrate all the
information, social media and
graphics that we have to make
things interesting, understandable
and of real value to the
viewers. We’ve got the really good
talent — Bret Baier, Megyn Kelly,
Bill Hemmer, Martha MacCallum,
Joe Trippi, Karl Rove, Chris
Wallace, Brit Hume — as well as
very clear and understandable
graphics and information.

MCN: The social media aspect is
far different than it was back in
2008, so how does your coverage
differ from what you did four years ago?

MC: I think the great thing about Fox is it really
always has encompassed the country as a whole, and
not just one coast or a certain group of privileged
people. We really do try to hear what viewers across
the country are saying about what they know and
what they don’t know and to what extent they can
participate in the conversation.

On the other hand, it doesn’t make
any sense to just turn the whole thing
over to random Twitter messages and
emails and videos that people send in.
There is a way to actually let people
outside the arena feel like they’re a part
of the process and reflect that in your
coverage — that has changed over the
years, and I think all for the better.
The more people can feel engaged in
something and not just downstream of
it, fantastic.

MCN: Given the
high level of partisan
rhetoric that
we’re hearing surrounding the
election, how do you balance the
desire for one side or the other
to hear their stories being told
while maintaining a fair and balanced
approach to the news?

MC: Well we do both. You’d
have to dip in and out through
the day, but pretty much
through the day we’re doing the
fact-finding and the news. We
do have some opinion people
on, on occasion we’ll have a
panel; but a lot of the opinion
is left to the evenings, like the
[Bill] O’Reilly show and Sean
Hannity’s show, where people
can air that a little bit themselves. We’re doing both,
and I think that’s what people want.

MCN: Are you going to have most of your on-air talent
out at the Democratic Convention?

MC: Yes … we’re set up inside and outside and around
town. Yes, we do a lot more now of the big box, little
box or quad split, where I think we’ll almost always
have at least a camera, if not two or three, on the
event. We’ll have people in the hall, on the floor and in
the booth, and we’ll have people around outside. And
we’ll also have some people around the country who
will be telling us how it’s playing and we’ll have some
here in New York monitoring all the social media. So
it’ll be a several-pronged approached to all of it — how
it’s playing, what’s the boomerang, who’s watching,
what do [viewers] think and how the messages are
going down. And you really have to feel that out at the
time.

MCN: Given the fact that there are other networks
out there doing the same coverage or similar coverage
of the conventions as well as their election
coverage, are you confident that Fox News will be
able to maintain its ranking as the top cable news
service?

MC: Knock on wood, but extremely confident.
Honestly, extremely confident. People know who our
on-air folks are, they know they get the truth, they
know we make it smart and interesting, and I’m very
confident about that.

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