Not Ready on Day 1?

Experience for the White House (reporter)

We’ve all heard the argument that the next resident of the White House need be Ready on Day 1 to assume the job of commander-in-chief (and the various sales pitches on how one might acquire the requisite readiness).

What about those assigned to report on the next resident of the White House?

The New York Times’ Jacques Steinberg writes today of the many newspapers that can no longer afford to have a reporter on the campaign trail day in and day out and notes—in passing—that this means “fewer reporters will arrive at the White House in January with the experience that editors have typically required to cover a president on Day 1.”

To quote Dick Cheney: So?

Steinberg writes: “In the past, one advantage for those reporters who committed to spend as many as two years on the campaign trail was that they were often vaulted into the White House press room” whereas now “many of those assigned to cover the next president will not have had the benefit of such seasoning, or exposure to the new president’s advisers.”

Sure, being “vaulted into the White House press room” is an “advantage for reporters” or a light at the end of the tunnel/reward for those who do their time on the campaign trail. But is it always an “advantage” for readers? Of course “seasoning” and an established working relationship with the new president’s advisers can lead to superior reporting. But, as recent history ( Journeys with George, anyone?) demonstrates, it is no guarantee. And there can be disadvantages to arriving in Washington, D.C., with the “seasoning” of one or more campaigns (insert laundry list of all the things that are wrong with campaign coverage at its worst—the pack, the jamming of people and events into fixed “narratives” and conventional wisdom, uncritical he said-she said coverage, fondness for the horserace, and so on).

Could it really be so bad if a few more of those who take a seat in the briefing room for the next administration have not yet bowled oranges with, barbecued with, or had their boots complimented by the person they are covering?

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Liz Cox Barrett is a writer at CJR.