When I talked to her about her campaign expectations in May, Schultz spoke of her interest in “follow the money” journalism, particularly in a season of super PACs and “dark money.” She made good on that ambition, as well as her localizing mission, with coverage of the Michigan ties to Restore Our Future, a super PAC supporting Mitt Romney. (Some short pieces she did are available online, though the feature she called “one of the better stories I did,” helping both her and readers understand how campaign finance shaped Election 2012, appears to be no longer accessible.)
Schultz also recalled a key coverage decision she made when, during a campaign stop in Michigan just before the convention, Romney tossed out a joke about Obama’s birth certificate that drew cheers from the crowd.
“When I first heard that, I thought, ‘Oh, geez.’ It stood out to me and seemed newsworthy,” Schultz said. But she noticed that other reporters did not mention the joke prominently in their initial coverage. (I did too, and I criticized them for it.)
Schultz decided to highlight Romney’s joke in her event coverage, and soon faced a backlash. Critics thought she made a big deal out of nothing, arguing that Romney was just trying to play up his hometown roots—and besides, he’d already said he didn’t doubt that Obama was a citizen.
However Romney meant it, the crowd’s understanding of his comment, and the cheers it elicited, were notable. “If you asked [people in the crowd] what he meant by the joke, they’d say, ‘Oh yeah, it’s because he has questions about his birth certificate. We do too,’” Schultz said. In the end, she “stands by [her] decision” to emphasize the joke.
But there are other stories Schultz feels she missed.
“One story I really wish I’d done is about taxes and tax policy, which became a big deal” in the campaign, Schultz said. “I wish I’d written that story from a local angle: this is what the candidates say, and here’s how their policies would affect you personally.”
As for Pluta, looking ahead he’s interested in watching how the conventional wisdom about Obama’s win is established—namely, that demographic shifts are leading to a more diverse electorate that is skeptical of the contemporary Republican vision. “I want to see how this plays out,” Pluta said. “I want to see how the parties maintain themselves or retag to that reality. The more interesting story seems to be in the Republican Party right now.”
That focus on the big picture points to another insight that Schultz will take away her first campaign: “Focus on issues and stories people will actually be interested in.”
She laughs when she puts it that way.
“It sounds so basic, but when you’re caught up in the campaign bubble, you start thinking what someone said is the news of the day,” she said. “Most people are not following [the day-to-day spats] and really, it doesn’t matter. It’s good to have people in your life with nothing to do with politics or journalism to bounce ideas off of. It helps you do better stories.”