The field is the primary source of information for a journalist. This is where you meet all the people who will determine the outcome of the elections. And it is these people who must be questioned as a priority on their needs and on their expectations. A journalist must go to the people, not only in large towns and cities but also in rural areas, regions which are political “strongholds” as well as those which are more “neutral”, and – why not? – the diaspora, if possible in neighbouring countries or further afield, to sound them out, get their point of view and what they make of the electoral process, find out what they are concerned about and give them a voice.
Community radio stations are especially well placed to get people talking about specific issues of general interest (sanitation, electricity, traffic, children’s education, etc.). Likewise, as a journalist you must approach the world of politics and civil society organisations and attend events organised by them. In doing so you should have a chosen angle – which can of course change once you are there – keeping it in mind throughout the report, so that you do not get completely caught up in the atmosphere.
Working in the “field” is referred to as “reporting”. Some recordings (topical vox pops) can be done before the campaign period. Some will be “kept on ice” (constituting a catalogue of material) and broadcast in due course.
From the start, a journalist should be familiar with, or at least have at hand, the laws governing the election: the Constitution, election laws, the workings of the specialised electoral commissions (CENI, CEI for Burkina Faso and Côte d’Ivoire) and media regulatory bodies. Official reports, from agencies, international organisations and civil society, and other administrative documents, also provide a wealth of information.
The Ministry of the Interior, the commission responsible for organising the elections, and any other body authorised to officially communicate during the campaign are official sources, along with exit polls. They make it possible to minimise rumours and to qualify the figures claimed by each candidate. Journalists must nevertheless take care when using this type of source.
Before the start of the election campaign, make contact with the civil society organisations responsible for observing the ballot and keep them on file. On the day of the vote, cross-check their information and impressions with those of international observers. It is also a good idea speak to experts and academics who can offer their expertise and knowledge of previous elections.
Without doubt, politicians are a sensitive, but inevitable, source. It is essential to keep in mind that candidates, party leaders and their representatives will defend their own interests. However, the things that they say may serve as a starting point for an investigation.
AND, to be used with caution, OTHER MEDIA
The media are only a second-hand source of information. As a journalist, do not simply repeat information from colleagues without checking it out, because there is a high risk of passing on false information, leaving yourself open to prosecution and losing your credibility among listeners.
Social networks, blogs and the Internet as a whole, which continuously churn out information, should not be ignored but use them with caution, and any information gleaned from such sources should be double- or triple-checked. By setting up search engine alerts (for example, Google alerts with “country name”, “elections”, “party name”) you can receive the information available on a daily basis.