Covering Elections: The Challenges of Training the Watchdogs

The Center for International Media Assistance at the National Endowment for Democracy hosts a panel discussion on:

Covering Elections:

The Challenges of Training the Watchdogs

Elections are a crucial instrument for the participation of citizens in the democratic process. Covering election campaigns helps build capacities that are central to achieving accountable, democratic governance, including promoting quality news coverage of candidates’ campaigns and engaging audiences in a public discourse on the political party and policy process. As the CIMA report Covering Elections: The Challenges of Training the Watchdogs notes, however, training journalists to report on elections is often a sideline in most media development programs. Programs aimed at improving election laws, structures, and processes may include a journalism component, for example; or efforts to boost investigative reporting might focus on elections in a particularly sensitive year. Where such specialized election coverage programs have been mounted, they have often been short term and rushed, lacking emphasis on long-term skills training or effective monitoring of reporting. Over 40 people joined CIMA at the panel discussion on November 14, 2012, to consider how to address these challenges and create more effective training programs for watchdogs worldwide.


Kelli Arena


Global Center for Journalism and Democracy

Rosemary Armao


University at Albany – State University of New York

Stephen B. Nix


International Republican Institution

Lisa Schnellinger



Wednesday, November 14, 2012

10:00 a.m. – 11:30 a.m.

About the speakers:

Kelli Arena is an award-winning journalist, communications expert, and trainer. For 25 years, she worked as a news manager and on-air correspondent for CNN. As the network’s justice correspondent, she covered terrorism, national security, the Supreme Court, and federal law enforcement. Starting at CNN in New York as a business and economics reporter, Arena was also based in London, Tokyo, and Washington. She continues her on-air work as a contributor and host. Arena is the executive director of the Global Center for Journalism and Democracy at Sam Houston State University, where she also holds an endowed chair. She has trained journalists, political parties, female politicians, and women leaders across the Middle East and North Africa. As president of RKC Solutions, Arena has worked with corporations, associations, and executives on communications strategy, messaging, and branding. She has also developed leadership conferences for clients including the International Women’s Forum. She was instrumental in helping launch News Certified Exchange, which provides the first worldwide database of credible, interview-ready sources for journalists.

Rosemary Armao is an assistant professor of journalism/communication at the State University of New York at Albany, as well as a consultant and member of the board of directors of the Center for Investigative Reporting in Bosnia-Herzegovina and the Organized Crime and Corruption Project in Romania. Armao has written and edited at a number of U.S. newspapers, including as a bureau chief for the Baltimore Sun, managing editor of the Herald Tribune, and state and investigative editor of the Fort Lauderdale Sun Sentinel. She has also worked on reporting and media development projects in Africa, Asia, and Eastern Europe. Armao is a former executive director and member of the board of directors of Investigative Reporters and Editors and a former Knight International Journalism Fellow. She holds degrees from Syracuse University and Ohio State University and is the author of two CIMA reports, Covering Corruption: The Difficulties of Trying to Make a Difference (2010) and Covering Elections: The Challenges of Training Watchdogs (2012).

Stephen B. Nix is the regional director for Eurasia at the International Republican Institute (IRI), which he joined in 2000. In that position, he oversees programs in Belarus, Georgia, Kyrgyz Republic, Moldavia, Russia, and Ukraine. Nix joined IRI after serving for two years as senior democracy specialist at the U.S. Agency for International Development. A specialist in political party development, and judicial and legal reform in the former Soviet Union, he resided in Kyiv, Ukraine, for more than three years. During that time, he served as outside legal counsel for the Committee on Legal Reform in the Ukrainian Parliament and as a member of the Parliamentary Special Committee on the Law on the Election of Deputies. He also assisted in the drafting of crucial reform legislation in Ukraine, including the constitution, the presidential and parliamentary election laws, and the law on the constitutional court. Nix served as legal counsel to the International Foundation for Electoral Systems in Ukraine and Russia, and has written extensively on legal and political reforms in the region. He earned his juris doctorate from the Georgetown University Law Center and worked in the litigation section of the law firm of Baker and Hostetler from 1989 to 1994, where he specialized in election law and international law.

Lisa Schnellinger is the president and co-owner of NearMedia, LLC, which offers consulting, training, and production services for media outlets in the US and overseas. She is also the lead adviser to UPI Next, the recently-revamped media development division of United Press International. A former reporter and editor at numerous U.S. newspapers and online outlets, she has worked on journalism projects in more than 20 countries since 1992. Schnellinger was a co-founder of Pajhwok Afghan News, the first independent local news agency in Afghanistan, and was a lead adviser for its technical and content upgrade. She has designed and managed projects on producing content and mentoring local editors as part of elections coverage in Egypt, Armenia, Cambodia, Georgia, and Timor-Leste. She has worked with the International Center for Journalists, IREX, Internews, and Integrated Regional Information Networks across Asia and the Middle East, and was a Knight International Press Fellow in the South Pacific. Schnellinger is the author of five reporting manuals on demographic change, politics, social issues, environment, education, and economic development.