Originally published: March 15, 2012
Last updated: April 4, 2012 - 12:45pm
A lot of people complain about the blandness and inadequacy of much campaign reporting—its focus on momentum and appearances; its superficiality; its consistent elevation of rhetorical missteps into Big Deals. The trail is centered around photo ops and pseudo-events, their speed and frequency designed to let the candidates dictate the political narrative’s framing. The ensuing coverage is too predictive and too predictable. And it’s not entirely the reporters’ fault. They are given their assignments by an editor, and the velocity of the reporting process leaves them little opportunity for creative interpretation. Can the process be fixed?
- Know more about your surroundings: If reporters knew more about stops on the route and the particular issues affecting their residents, their reporting might be more specific and more fruitful. That might mean flagging tensions between a candidate’s agenda and a location’s history. It mean asking deeper and more intelligent questions. Or it might just mean adding nuance and context to the reporter’s account of what was said.
- Build better research tools: Give reporters reliable, cogent information that they can use on deadline; resources tailored to the specific needs of the working campaign reporter.
- Reclaim your schedule: Campaign reporters have little opportunity to explore the changing scenery, often because they are tethered to the campaign bus that transports them from event to event.
- Improve your opening gambits: Reporters ought not to lead with questions that will prompt their interlocutors to talk about the campaign in terms of winning and losing. Instead, start with something specific, something issue-centric, maybe something that doesn’t mention the candidate at all. By avoiding the obvious questions, you’ve got a better chance of eliciting unexpected answers; material that might lead to more substantial stories.
- Know more about the other candidates: Most reporters are assigned to cover specific candidates, and while they build up a wealth of knowledge about their specific candidate, they often don’t know very much about the other candidates on the trail. But they should. Candidates are always talking about themselves in relation to their competitors, and describing their plans and policies in relation to their competitors’ plans and policies.
- Focus your Tweeting: If you’re going to use Twitter on the job, then use it as an actual tool to improve and focus your reporting. Poll your followers about questions they’d like you to ask. Encourage them to fill in data and information about locations with which you are unfamiliar. Use it as a way to enhance your work, rather than just a dumping ground for links and zingers.
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