Voters have long been familiar with those newsletters and other pieces of mail that arrive periodically from their elected representatives, designed to share information about issues and, perhaps more importantly, to show off the efforts of the official. Some people may even read them.
Increasingly, however, this constituent contact is moving into television, particularly cable, where local access time and cable operators' public service requirements merge.
* The newest example, making its debut at 8 tonight on Channel 12 of the United Artists Cable system in Baltimore City, is "Emerging Issues," a talk show with Rep. Kwesei Mfume of the Seventh District. Legislative priorities are the topics tonight, and the guest is another local Congressman, Rep. Benjamin Cardin of the Sixth District.
It's the first new public affairs show launched by the cable company itself. (The system's Channel 44, however, is an operation of the Mayor's Office of Cable and Communications which telecasts City Council meetings and a variety of other community service programming.)
"Emerging Issues" will be seen weekly at 8 p.m. Tuesdays. It is also Mfume's second TV show, for his monthly "1st Sunday With Kwesei Mfume" can be seen on WBAL-Channel 11.
* In a similar vein, Baltimore County's Comcast Cablevision system is launching later this week a new series of interviews with Congressional representatives.
During the Persian Gulf war, Comcast initiated a well-received effort to interview congressional reps about their views on the war, and now has expanded the concept to not only other public issues, but to elected representatives in a wider area.
"Capital Ideas: Cable Talks With Congress" is a series of five-minute interviews with senators and representatives serving jurisdictions that are covered by cable TV companies in the Maryland-Delaware-District of Columbia Cable Television Association. That's a total potential viewership of more than 1.2 million.
The local companies will telecast the spots, with Comcast communications director Robert Gunther as the interviewer, in local cut-in portions of the basic CNN Headline News in the period May 10-23. Additional spots will come on about a three-month rotation. (Check your local cable service for listings.)
It is certainly hard to quarrel with any such efforts to provide a better informed voting public, and to hear the views of our elected officials.
But viewers should also recognize that, just as with the mailings from Congress, these TV shows are not exactly "Nightline." The Comcast interviews, for example, says Gunther, include questions submitted earlier and approved for preparation of answers by the subjects.