Get That Reporter Back on the Bus!

On Feb. 23, the Washington Post’s Howard Kurtz quoted the Philadelphia Inquirer’s Dick Polman saying that reporters “need to get away from the traditional indicators” — which Kurtz lists as money, organization, polls, and endorsements — “and talk to people more.”

Today, Maeve Reston of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette shows us the perils of what can happen when they do. Reston visited an “open-air, circa-1934 Farmers Market” in Los Angeles, talked to a few people, and concluded that no one in California cares about presidential politics. They’re too busy, she says, marveling over “Charlize Theron’s crystal-studded Gucci gown” and “singer Alison Krauss’s $2 million diamond sandals.”

We can empathize with Reston. It isn’t easy to try to determine the mindset of a state that stretches 650 miles from Mexico to Oregon, with a variegated population of 35 million, based on a few hours of wandering about a funky outdoor mall in the shadow of the Hollywood Hills. Yet editors send reporters on such missions all the time.

And while we agree with Polman that many political journalists need to emerge from the press bus bubble, the pendulum can swing too far in the other direction; once off the bus, collecting a few words of wisdom from whomever happens to be loitering around an exotic vegetable stand/food court on a lazy Tuesday morning may not point the way either.

Brian Montopoli

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Brian Montopoli is a writer at CJR Daily.