As Santorum Moves On, So Does the Coverage

Some quick, quality analysis in Pennsylvania mixes with lack of links, context

This post has been updated. See note at bottom

PENNSYLVANIA — When Tuesday broke, it looked like Rick Santorum’s Easter and family campaign recess was about to end. Events were scheduled. The Underdog Machine was seemingly about to rev up.

What broke instead was news that Santorum’s presidential campaign was over. The announcement would come from the same small town where another campaign ended in 1863—Gettysburg, Pa.

Media outlets here were quick to reverse course, with Twitter updates, email alerts, and breaking news bars posted and sent out. Some were also quick to forget the story, including many large-market television websites—stations set to lose a good chunk of the $2.9 million the Mitt Romney campaign was reportedly set to plunk down in the state.

Flood-the-zone reporting of Santorum’s decision was provided by the politics blog of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, which has worked hard to own coverage of its one-time resident candidate. A post at 10:19 a.m. set up the day with what was to be a normal stop in Gettysburg. The posts followed at 2:03 p.m. (feed from press conference), 2:42 p.m. (wide-ranging reactions), 3:13 p.m. (story from presser), 3:32 p.m. (campaign’s continued fundraising), and 3:48 p.m. (photo from Senate race loss six years ago and live photo). The P-G’s blog was back at it with more links this morning, as well as the final installment of its “Daily Santorum” post. (Closing thought: “Let’s face it, the Daily Romney would have been dull.”)

Elsewhere, The Patriot-News in Harrisburg offered live-tweet coverage of Santorum’s remarks, plus aggregated Twitter responses. The wires, newspapers, and leading state politics blogs all provided quick turn-around pieces with some context.

And despite the short time frame, some outlets provided nice analytical pieces. For example, The Times-Tribune of Scranton wrapped academics and politicos in with polling data, some background, and a look at the candidate’s future career options. The story also noted how Santorum didn’t actually say why he was quitting the race.

Other stories worth noting include a takeout by The Philadelphia Inquirer on social issues which drew back to New Hampshire, and a Post-Gazette piece examining the roots of the just-ended presidential bid in Santorum’s 2006 Senate loss.

The Patriot-News put out a quick-turnaround interview with analyst Terry Madonna of Franklin & Marshall College, who was perhaps the most-interviewed man in Pennsylvania Tuesday. (There was no mention of Santorum’s recent reference to the academic-pollster as a “Democratic hack.”)

The news-of-the-day star didn’t last long on some websites, though, particularly those attached to large-market television stations. While small markets generally gave greater play, many Philadelphia and Pittsburgh stations buried the story in the midst of long trails of news links. KYW (CBS) in Philly and WPXI (NBC) in Pittsburgh were exceptions.

Doing better among smaller markets were WNEP (ABC) in Northeastern Pennsylvania, with a quick story and reaction piece, and WGAL (NBC) in South Central Pennsylvania, with two stories and a live piece off a Mitt Romney dinner Tuesday night closer to Philadelphia.

Worth noting was the general absence of coverage of Santorum’s Tuesday night appearance at Lancaster Bible College with Focus on the Family founder Dr. James Dobson. While Santorum didn’t talk to the media, the event was his only appearance outside of the earlier presser.

Dobson, who endorsed the candidate in January and is a popular speaker among conservative Christians, and Santorum drew a large crowd. Stories in the local Lancaster paper and Philadelphia Inquirer seemed to be matched only by local station WPMT (FOX), which aired a two-minute report with little on the social conservative narrative.

Finally, among the commentary from the pundits and partisans, it would be hard to top the two-word post from the left-leaning site It would make Strunk and White proud.

Update: Over Twitter, @scottdetrow alerts us to some other coverage of the end of Santorum’s campaign. Mary Wilson filed this dispatch from the event in Lancaster. And also from Wilson, here is a four-minute radio segment on Santorum’s last days in the race. Thanks to Detrow for the pointer.

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Ken Knelly served as metro editor at The Times-Tribune in Scranton and as senior editor for government and business at The State in Columbia, S.C. He owns Clearberries, a communications consulting and training firm, and works for a Christian college in Northeastern Pennsylvania.