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Campaign Coverage in the Time of Twitter

Campaign Coverage in the Time of Twitter

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Published by: Crowdsourcing.org on Aug 27, 2011
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02/03/2013

 
Campaign Coverage in the Time of Twitter
 How technology has transformed reporting on presidential politics
Thurs. August 25, 2011
 By
Jodi Enda
 
Senior contributing writer Jodi Enda (jaenda@gmail.com) writes about the media, politics and government from Washington, D.C. She previously covered the White House, presidentialcampaigns and Congress for Knight Ridder and was a national correspondent for thePhiladelphia Inquirer. Enda has written about coverage of foreign news and of federaldepartments and agencies in recent issues of AJR.
The late, legendary R.W. Apple Jr. covered 10 presidential elections for the NewYork Times, the last in 2004. Once dubbed "America's most powerful politicalreporter," Apple was notorious for his ambition, his appetite and his ability. Helived large, ate large, spent large and, above all, wrote large. Everything about theman was outsize. His Rolodex was especially grand: He knew everyone, fromcounty chairmen to presidents, and they knew him. For decades, it was so.Yet less than five years after his death, the iconic political reporter better known as"Johnny" would barely recognize the beat he dominated for so long. He wouldn'tknow many of the young new reporters on the campaign trail, of course, butneither would he know a number of the media outlets that employ them. Moresignificant, Apple wouldn't recognize the way reporters of today do the very jobthat he defined
 – 
interview by interview, word by carefully chosen word
 – 
throughall those election cycles.No longer do reporters slog elbow to elbow with presidential contenders vying forvotes in Iowa and New Hampshire. No longer do they get to know the candidatesin a way that voters do not
 – 
up close and personal, with their feet up, their guarddown and, perhaps, a drink at the ready. No longer do they have the luxury of weeks or days or even hours to gather string and dig deep and analyze before theywrite a story. Heck, many reporters scarcely have time to write what Apple wouldhave considered stories, so busy are they thumbing 140-character tweets, tappingout blog posts and shooting or appearing in video.
 
Johnny Apple might have ruled the road by virtue of his overbearing personality,abundant eccentricities, audacious expense accounts and sheer chutzpah. Writingin The New Yorker in 2003, Calvin Trillin noted that "Apple stories constitute asubgenre of the journalistic anecdote." But it was his exquisite skill that made hima staple of the Times' front page and allowed him to frame issue upon issue. Hisreporting was deep, his access to sources vast, his writing both good and fast. Onstories long and short, he provided insight that was unique, analysis that was apt,historical details that put the news in perspective. He wrote with the authorityacquired not only by spending years on a beat, but by researching excessively andreporting tirelessly. He was a master at what we used to call shoe-leather reporting.I can't imagine him tweeting.Or being a captive of a social network culture that measures scoops in seconds andrequires journalists to stop reporting in order to tweet or blog or post video inincremental, bare-boned tidbits.To be sure, Apple valued scoops and had more than his share of them. Then again,he had all day, if not longer, to chase them, confirm them, put flesh on them andmake them worth reading. It's a luxury few of his journalistic successors enjoy."There truly isn't a news cycle," says Jeff Zeleny, who, as the current nationalpolitical correspondent for the Times, is Apple's rightful heir.Although Zeleny still has more opportunities to develop his stories than many of his competitors, he, too, is caught up by the demands of social media. This year, hetells me, he started tweeting. He also blogs and appears in video posted on thepaper's Web site. In the early morning hours of Sunday, May 22, I spotted Zelenysitting alone in the corner of a trendy Washington restaurant during a pulsatingparty peopled by journalists, lobbyists and political operatives. It didn't take long todiscover that he and some others in the room were tweeting the news that IndianaGov. Mitch Daniels had decided not to seek the Republican presidentialnomination. While Zeleny was hunched over his BlackBerry tapping out a quick story for the Times' blog (which he tells me he expanded when he got home), Iheard two party-goers from competing news outlets acknowledge, only slightlybegrudgingly, that his tweet beat theirs by some number of seconds.
 
"As a guy who remembers covering campaigns before cellphones, the whole thingseems stuck on fast forward to me, because we're all essentially on deadline everyhour as opposed to a couple times a day," says Howard Kurtz, who for many yearswrote about the media for the Washington Post and now serves as Washingtonbureau chief for the newly conjoined Newsweek and Daily Beast. "The fact that wecan post stories or tweet items instantaneously is a terrific development but alsothreatens to overwhelm us with the ephemeral."Competition for scoops, always robust, has intensified not only because of the 24/7news cycle brought on by cable news and the Internet but because of the upsurge inWeb sites, including The Daily Beast, that provide original reporting. During thelast presidential election, most sites that were not part of larger news organizations
 – 
primarily the old-school kind such as newspapers, magazines and televisionnetworks
 – 
simply aggregated or regurgitated campaign news that was firstreported elsewhere. (Politico, which was created in the Web era and made a splashcovering the 2008 race, has a print product.)That was then. Now, as newspapers and magazines continue to pare both theirstaffs and their campaign budgets, many old-time journalists are migrating to Websites with newly minted Washington bureaus and hotel reservations in early caucusand primary states. Well-known Washington fixtures
 – 
among them Kurtz,Howard Fineman, Tucker Carlson, Carl Cannon
 – 
left traditional media outlets toplay leading roles at Web publications. Some of the sites, such as The Daily Caller,were founded after the last presidential race. Some, like Yahoo!, are dispatchingcampaign reporters for the first time. Others, including Talking Points Memo,RealClearPolitics and The Huffington Post (now a part of AOL), have beefed uptheir political staffs appreciably.Despite hiring in some quarters, it is quite possible that the majority of peopletracking the candidates this year don't fit the traditional definition of journalist atall. They include full- and part-time bloggers, paid and un-, people with othercareers who report on the side, people who attend campaign events and blog ortweet their impressions, supporters and opponents of candidates, even peoplecalled "trackers" who are paid by partisan organizations to follow candidates withan eye toward contradictions or gotcha moments that could take them down a

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