March, of the Tampa Tribune, said that in the face of reduced access and a limited travel budget, he concentrates on political analysis aimed at making the Sunday front page, like this recent piece exploring what might happen to Florida’s delegate count at the Republican National Convention. “I’m going to write about Florida—what high-level GOP activists are doing, who are they going with, what are they thinking?” he said.
Complicating matters for March: he ended a two-week furlough on December 13, the same day that Media General announced 165 layoffs at the Tribune and other smaller community papers in Tampa Bay.
His emphasis, though, remains closer to home. “My focus is where does Florida fit in, how are the candidates doing here,” says Smith. One example is a December 9 column looking at whether nearly 100 Florida insiders and political observers still believe that Florida will decide who will become the GOP nominee. (I am on the list of survey respondents, and I participated in this one.)
Two days later, Smith wrote a solid story about the rise of Newt Gingrich. What was missing—and would not have been four years ago—was a quote from Gingrich or a senior member of his staff. That may be partly due to the fact that Gingrich is still building his staff. But it also, Florida reporters suggest, underscores a lack of interest from the campaign, at this point, in talking to the state’s press.
If campaigns continue not to respond, they will only hurt themselves, says Caputo. “Print still sets the baseline of the conversation in the race,” he says. “The non-MSM still uses us as the point of departure.”
Perhaps. But at least at this point in the election, the campaigns seem to have decided that print reporters in Florida, and elsewhere, matter far less than they did four years ago.