The Citizens Clean Elections Commission will partner with the Arizona Media Association and RIESTER, a marketing agency, for upcoming candidate debates in 2024.
In the coming year, the joint operation will produce and distribute up to 29 political debates in Arizona during the 2024 election season, according to an Arizona Media Association press release.
"We believe that the combined competencies of RIESTER and the AMA are solid footing to produce debates that will reach all voters and give all candidates a level playing field to make their case to their constituencies," said Clean Elections Voter Education Director Gina Roberts in RIESTER’s press release.
The debates will be simulcast with Spanish audio translation and an ASL interpreter. They will also allow for an open press format, where local media outlets will be able to report on the debates from a staging room if each campaign agrees, according to the Arizona Media Association.
President and CEO of Arizona Media Association Christopher Kline said Cronkite students will still be able to cover debates.
"We will be ensuring that for all of these debates, we are offering a press space at whatever venue that debate is taking place," Kline said. "That would include Cronkite students, so they can ask questions of these potentially future elected individuals."
Kline said there is a need to increase awareness in less-covered places, especially through "student involvement" at ASU, NAU and UA.
Roberts said the AMA simulcast the U.S. Senate debate in 2022 with Mark Kelly, Blake Masters and Marc Victor with Arizona PBS, and said it was a huge success.
In Oct. 2022, Clean Elections sought new partners for debates after an interview with Kari Lake was cancelled in October. Arizona PBS and Cronkite held a solo interview with now-governor Katie Hobbs after Hobbs refused to share a debate stage with Lake. The interview was against the standards set by Clean Elections, who sponsors the debates.
Roberts said the decision on a new broadcast partner was not a result of the 2022 conflict between Arizona PBS and Clean Elections. She said Clean Elections sent a request for proposal to Arizona PBS for debate coverage, who did not send one back.
"We respect the decision by Clean Elections and appreciate its ongoing commitment to keeping Arizona voters informed," Jeremy Cauthen, the senior director of brand engagement and marketing for Arizona PBS, wrote in an email. "Arizona PBS looks forward to presenting our audience with multiple opportunities to hear from candidates as part of our comprehensive election coverage in 2024."
According to RIESTER'S press release, the selection of a debate production partner is a crucial component of debate planning. This selection began with an evaluation of Arizona debate processes, which a subgroup of Citizens Clean Elections conducted in 2023.
"This new partnership will broaden transparency and ensure that people have confidence in the editorial process," Kline said. "And confidence in what's happening behind the scenes, so that there are as few doors closed as possible."
Primary debates are expected to take place in the early summer, while general election debates will take place in September and October, according to the AMA.
"Our goal is to create as broad a reach as possible but also to make sure that we localize them to the audiences that they affect, and that's going to require a lot of collaborative partnerships," Kline said. "Talking amongst newsroom leaders to make sure that everybody buys into this new vision because it only works if everybody participates."
Edited by Katrina Michalak, Alysa Horton and Shane Brennan