Neil Vigdor covers Connecticut politics for Greenwich Time and The (Stamford) Advocate, sister daily newspapers owned by Tribune Publishing Co. He has written more than 30 articles about the state’s Democratic Senate primary. Vigdor, 29, joined the two papers in 1999 as an editorial assistant and became a reporter in 2000. Previously, he attended Vanderbilt University, where he was editor of the student newspaper.
Liz Cox Barrett: How has reporting on the Lamont-Lieberman race been different from the sorts of things you typically cover? Any surprises?
Neil Vigdor: The Lamont-Lieberman race is like no other story I have covered or probably ever will. Ned Lamont is a guy who had one campaign poster and less than $40,000 in the bank when I first interviewed him in February about challenging Joe Lieberman. Now he’s the Democratic nominee for Senate and getting calls from Hillary Rodham Clinton and donations from Barbra Streisand. Lieberman is a fixture here in Connecticut who came within a few hanging chads of being vice president. It’s a scintillating political story. It’s also been a test of stamina, resources and not becoming part of the story.
Our sister papers had two reporters covering all the angles of the story, while some bigger competitors had as many as four scribes on the campaign trail splitting the reporting and writing duties. We followed the candidates to Waterbury, Hartford, Meriden and Bridgeport — just to name a few — and often filed under tight deadlines and difficult conditions. At the state party convention in May, I was forced to read my article over the telephone to an editor because my computer modem wasn’t working.
LCB: In a story from primary night, datelined the Meriden Sheraton, you wrote: “Lamont’s campaign dedicated an entire work room — separate from the ‘mainstream media’ (MSM) and complete with champagne — to its faithful following of bloggers.” Can you talk more about this? Was there no champagne for the mainstream press? Did the MSM and bloggers co-exist peacefully on the campaign trail?
NV: No bubbly for us. Just root beer, ginger ale and water. I thought it said a lot that Lamont’s campaign stocked the blogger room with a bottle of champagne on ice. Here you had all of these bloggers, some with digital cameras and video recorders, filling an entire room at the hotel. One blogger had blue hair. Another wore a fake nose and glasses. Many had “Lamont for Senate” stickers, T-shirts and pins.
Bloggers seem to be equally, if not more, touchy about being interrupted on deadline as us mainstream media folk. I had one tell me he was too busy uploading a post to his Web site to do an interview — three hours before the polls closed, mind you. There does seem to be competitiveness between the bloggers and the MSM. One needed permission to film the bloggers at work, yet some frequently taped footage of us for their Web sites.
LCB: What are your thoughts on bloggers’ influence on the race — something that many reporters seemed to have focused on. Has it been overstated?
NV: I was doing man-on-the-street the other day about the primary and came across these retirees in their 70s. To hear them talk about the blogs really says something. That said, I believe there was an undercurrent of dissatisfaction with a number of Sen. Lieberman’s positions in Connecticut that existed for a while. It eventually manifested itself in Web sites like DumpJoe.com, MyLeftNutmeg.com and the DailyKos.com. The bloggers are a very observant bunch, as well as opinionated. A few had postings taking umbrage with our newspaper’s coverage of the race. But then again, they’ve got a horse in the race.
I was particularly struck by one blog that posted photographs of the press corps interviewing the candidates after their first and only face-to-face debate in West Hartford. One photo showed a pack of reporters talking to Lamont. A second showed me talking to Lieberman’s campaign manager by myself “er single guy” and suggested that no one was interested in talking to the incumbent’s mouthpiece. I got what I needed from Lamont, so I moved on. End of story.