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September 20, 2007

How To Cover Campaigns

Chris Hayes has some suggestions for how the press corps could improve campaign reportage. I particularly like this one:

Assign campaign coverage to beat reporters. When Obama released his tax plan. the article that ran in the TImes about the plan was authored by the Obama beat reporter Jeff Zeleny. Zeleny’s a perfectly good political reporter, and he’s been following Obama since ‘03, when he was writing for the Trib, but there’s no earthly reason to think he’s well-equipped to report on a tax plan. Meanwhile, the Times happens to have on staff the Pulizer-Prize-winning David Cay Johnston, who is unquestionably the single best tax reporter in the country. Why wouldn’t you assign him to write the piece about Obama’s tax plan? The same goes for every substantive area of policy. The Post and the Times have reporters who know a lot about environmental policy, health policy, fiscal policy, etc.. Why not have them cover those aspects of the campaign?

The biggest problem, though, is one that he identifies earlier: There's just not that much to say. The papers have been printing daily stories about the 2008 election for the last year. Not all of those stories had to be written, or had anything to say. But if the paper doesn't have continual 2008 coverage, they'll lose their political readers to an outlet that does. This is the big problem for outlets that want to be substantive: To survive, you need to retain readers. To retain readers, you need to focus on what they're interested in. Sometimes, what they're interested in is not "news," at least not in the quantities you demand. So instead you're stuck coming up with all sorts of workarounds and side stories and fluff pieces that make it look like you're reporting when you're really just stalling

September 20, 2007 | Permalink


That a lot of campaign coverage is fluff doesn't mean that substantive issues like Obama's tax plan need to be turned into fluff as well. Zeleny can cover everything else about Obama, and Johnston can write about his tax plan. For that matter, one well-written article by Johnston at the plan's debut can serve as Zeleny's foundation for subsequent articles, or Zeleny can just ask Johnston his opinion or something.

None of this is hard.

Posted by: Stephen | Sep 20, 2007 12:38:24 PM

It strikes me you want both - you want the Obama reporter to cover the announcement in the context of Obama's overall effort, but then probably do a take-out where the tax reporter evaluates the implications of the proposal. It also strikes me that in many cases, the Times does this, even if we all like to believe they don't, and anyway, how hard is it for Zeleny to call say, Johnston, and ask him to glance at the plan. Isn't that how co-workers back each other up? Or am I just being naive?

Oh... and what Stephen said. :)

Posted by: weboy | Sep 20, 2007 1:05:51 PM

To modify one of Ezra's assertion is a pedantic but accurate maner:

To survive, you need advertisers. To keep attracting advertisers, you need to retain readers. To retain readers, you need to focus on what they're interested in.

Posted by: fluxisrad | Sep 20, 2007 1:48:35 PM

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