We’re in the last stretch of Campaign ’22. Most of us are numb to the campaign ads, where any candidate with any financial support has gone past the “get to know you” phase of their media buy and have third party supporters running “too extreme for New Mexico” smear ads against their opponent.

It’s sort of just a name recognition drill at this point, and a referendum on the performance of the incumbent. In races where there is no incumbent, partisan party lines go a long way.

(Except for the 24% of New Mexican voters who have left the major parties. As they are called here, “decline to state” or DTS voters are an important bloc who vote on issues.)

30, 20 and even 10 years ago, campaigning was grueling but more straightforward. Phone banking, direct mail, and door-to-door combined with paid media (advertising) and earned media (regular news coverage) were all part of a well-run campaign.

Everyone screens their calls now. (And I am absolutely one of “those Republicans” who refuses to answer polls.) Paper mail goes straight in the recycling bin. Streaming services have disrupted traditional broadcast audiences, putting a dent in advertising reach.

How does a candidate reach voters these days?

Until 2020 or so, digitally. But concerns about Russian trolls and other bad actors influencing elections since 2016 have put the kibosh on all social media advertising except for Facebook, and that platform has tightened controls significantly, making the interface difficult for users, and with less ability to track ads and target voter groups.

Nationwide, campaigns will spend nearly $10 billion in advertising, according to AdImpact. Digital advertising is losing market share to streaming services, but even that is more complex than a broadcast or cable buy, where $6.5 billion will be spent.

Door-to-door outreach remains vital but is also more difficult as we become more private and distrustful as a society.

I am glimpsing small signals of a return to… the good old newsroom. Gov. Lujan Grisham has given more local interviews in the last two months than she has in the last four years. Maybe that’s because her opponent, Mark Ronchetti, comes from the media community himself.

Whatever the reason, I applaud any candidate who proactively engages the working press. Here is why: showing a willingness to be unscripted (which doesn’t mean unprepared!), have a dialog with a local correspondent, and take a couple hard questions demonstrates depth and authenticity. These are both good things for an elected official to have.

Unlike many of my fellow Republicans, I am a fan of the news media. Working journalists are not like me. I am an opinion columnist. I try to write things that are true, and I research facts, but I also flavor them with my own opinion. A journalist is a chronicler of events as they happen.

In an interview setting, a journalist will ask a person relevant questions around a pertinent subject and then place those statements in context of germane events to tell a factual account of a current event. Candidate interviews provide a generally neutral third-party view of the individual’s positions and experience; a deeper look into what the candidate brings to the table.

Broadcast outlets are required to provide “equal time” to political candidates; if they broadcast a message from one candidate for office, they must give equal time for messages from all candidates for that office.” It’s a typical practice for print outlets to do the same via candidate profiles or questionnaires.

And of course, with the consolidation of many news outlets in our state, these opportunities are fewer. I remember 30 or more years ago it was very typical that anyone running for statewide office would make a point of swinging by my mother’s radio show when they had a stop in Silver City—it was considered a “can’t miss.” That show, and in fact the station itself, is long gone.

As households retreat ever more into themselves, and data tracking becomes more regulated, I hope what I think I am glimpsing might actually become an enduring reality: Political leaders engaging regularly with local and state working journalists—print, broadcast and digital.

Merritt Hamilton Allen is a PR executive and former Navy officer. She appears regularly as a panelist on NM PBS and is a frequent guest on News Radio KKOB. A Republican, she lives amicably with her Democratic husband north of I-40 where they run two head of dog, and two of cat. She can be reached at news.ind.merritt@gmail.com.