The Florida Influencer Series

Florida Priorities Summit panel: Media needs to practice caution on election nights

As vote-counting from the 2018 midterms continues, a group of veteran journalists said the media needs to be more careful about making early projections on election night.

Since last Tuesday, some media outlets were forced to retract their race calls as more votes slowly rolled in. That included Florida, where the Senate and governor’s races are currently in recount.

At the Florida Priorities Summit, Rachel Smolkin, the vice president and executive editor for CNN Politics, said the media needs to be transparent about what it knows and doesn’t know on election nights. CNN even aired a second “Election Night in America” program the Tuesday after the election to provide an update on the results.

“Election night is a big night, but it’s not the only night,” said Smolkin, noting that CNN held off on making any race calls in Florida. “We can do a better job in future cycles of setting that expectation.”

Politico Florida reporter Marc Caputo said that the public has grown so accustomed to having news instantly at their fingertips that there’s increased pressure to make predictions before all the information is available.

His advice for his fellow journalists? “Just continue to do our job and not hyperventilate so much.”

Another panelist, Michael Putney, WPLG political reporter and member of Florida Influencers, also noted that the media must avoid placing too much faith in the polls. Most public surveys leading up to the election showed Democrats Bill Nelson and Andrew Gillum in the lead. Both currently trail Republicans Rick Scott and Ron DeSantis.

“Election night was a good dose of humility,” Putney said.

Heading into a 2020 presidential race where Florida is once again set to play a crucial role, the panelists said the media needs to learn these lessons quickly.

“Flip a coin, Florida is probably going to land on its edge,” Caputo said.

The summit marks the culmination of the Florida Influencer Series for 2018 -- a project by the Miami Herald, el Nuevo Herald and Bradenton Herald. Over the past six months, the Influencers shared their ideas on how to address the most important issues facing the state and responded to questions from readers.

Watch a livestream of the Florida Priorities Summit here.

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