“The boys on the bus”, image courtesy of NPR
Yes, I put both “Year” and “Reporting” in scare quotes. Know why? Because something that starts two years (at least) before election day is not a “year”, and because the “reporting” the reporters do from the campaign trail doesn’t qualify as true reporting, in my opinion. Maybe “election season gossip” would be closer to the mark.
Which is the main fact behind my whole point.
There are a couple of really irritating aspects to election reporting that I think about often, especially during election season (and especially during Presidential election season). The first irritating thing, the reasons behind which are easy to understand, is that the vast majority of election reporting are “reports” on “the horse race”, i.e. who is up, who is down, who is moving up, etc. in the polls. Nothing about people’s positions, who might actually make a better office-holder, what a given candidate might do in a particular situation or facing a certain vote based on their past behavior (or past votes), or hell even what their past behavior has been. No, it’s all breathless discussions of “the polling”. (And equally breathless discussion about how shallow modern political discourse has become in that we only discuss “the horse race”. Which is kinda absurd, since my memory goes back to the Nixon years, and I don’t remember a whole lot of reporting on the issues back then, either.)
The reason for this is simple: That kind of writing is easy. I can sit here, right now, make up some poll numbers and write a story about it. Seriously. It’s absurdly simple, the only research it requires is looking up poll numbers, and it can easily fulfill your word quota (or minute quota) of the day. And everything is reported in this box. It’s not “How would Candidate Jones’ statement on Israel effect his future Israel policies”; no, it’s “How does Candidate Jones’ gaffe about Israel effect his polling?” Writing all your stories according to a pre-existing narrative is way easier than coming up with something original. It’s like writing a new fantasy story based in Middle Earth or Westeros instead of coming up with your own fantasy world. It’s lame, reductionist, a cop-out of your responsibilities, but it’s easy and understandable.
What I don’t understand is: Why is there a pool of reporters traveling with each candidate at all?
If there’s one thing I’ve noticed in the last, oh, say 20 years of Presidential elections, it’s that reporters and commentators are constantly talking about how useless and news-less campaign events and speeches are, how little access they have to candidates, what a pointless exercise campaign reporting seems to be. Expect these stories to start flooding in soon; New York Magazine got off an early salvo–the proximate cause for this blog post–just last week (20 months before election day!). And as I read all the whining in this post, and anticipated all the whining to come in the next 20 months, I kept thinking, as John Oliver would say, “Why is this still a thing?”
One would think that reason enough to do something about campaign reporting. But we have been hearing about–and observing–for nearly two decades now the vast shrinkage in “traditional media”. Newspapers folding or being “consolidated”, network TV ratings dropping like rocks (along with their budgets), magazines going out of business or migrating to the Web, etc. Money is tight in media. They’re closing overseas bureaus all the time. And so I get back to my John Oliver question:
Why is campaign pool reporting still a thing?
Cover campaigns, absolutely. And I can understand why the Washington Post, New York Times, and a few other papers and TV organizations with national reach cover them. But do CBS, NBC, CNN, Fox, ABC, Bloomberg, and God alone only knows how many other networks really all need individual reporters on the ground for every candidate for every event? Do we need reporters from the Des Moines paper going to New Hampshire in December of 2015? You get the picture.
What I don’t understand is, with every network and paper crying pauper, why are they still doing this? Why don’t they designate one or two people to follow these people around–particularly the right-wing nitwits who have absolutely no chance of winning–and leave it at that? They can share their “news” with the other outlets, and write their feather-weight “news” pieces from that. Or they can just stay home, look at the poll numbers, and write the exact same stories. But either way, sending dozens of reporters howling after this election season’s Herman Caine is absolutely idiotic.
That’s what I think, anyway. How about you?