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The political-niche media on the bus

January 14, 2012
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Friend of the blog David Bernstein has an excellent read (h/t Dan Kennedy) on how coverage of presidential campaigns has changed since Timothy Crouse described the 1972 race in his legendary The Boys on the Bus.

Bernstein notes how newspaper cutbacks, and the rise of sites like Politico and Huffington Post, have significantly altered the reach of reporting:

No question, there has been plenty of coverage for anyone who wants it. But what stories are they competing for? Given the audience of political junkies, seeking hour-by-hour “news” about the race, there is naturally a tendency to write about new poll numbers, tidbits of campaign strategy, minor logistical hiccups, slight changes in a stump speech, and other trivia often referred to as “process stories.”

“The coverage is far more inside-baseball than it ever was before,” [Erin] McPike [of Real Clear Politics] says. “It’s talking about process things that don’t translate well out in the streets.”

As might be expected, there are pros and cons to how things have changed in 40 years; Bernstein is ultimately most concerned by questions of access to the candidates:

[C]ampaigns do care about getting good local press. That was clear in New Hampshire last week, when press secretaries frequently cut off the national journalists at press conferences, to let local reporters ask questions. Candidates have also given one-on-one interviews with local TV newscasters, in New Hampshire and elsewhere, far more frequently than to national ones.But as those local journalists are less and less of a presence, it has become easier for campaigns to avoid the press altogether, and campaign entirely through advertising, debates, and carefully controlled events. All of which leaves the swarm of reporters scrambling for minutia to report, making them seem even less relevant — and perhaps, seeking a way off the bus for good.

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