Covering Paul Ryan’s big day in Virginia

The Times-Dispatch casts a wide net to deliver a strong package for its readers

VIRGINIA — You expect nuance and quantity from The Washington Post and The New York Times when it comes to coverage of major political news, like the selection of a vice presidential nominee. But can a local paper tell the same story just as well when the announcement is made on its home turf?

Virginia newsrooms were confronted with that question on Saturday, as Paul Ryan made his debut as Mitt Romney’s running mate with an event on the Norfolk waterfront, followed by campaign stops for the duo in Richmond and Manassas.

For the most part, reporters here captured the color and followed the formula, offering the best sound bytes from the stump speeches and a quote or two from rally attendees.

But the Richmond Times-Dispatch excelled, offering its readers an abundance of coverage in a Sunday package—with an assist from one of those big-name papers—that was a pleasure to peruse over a mug of coffee, or two (there was a lot to read).

There was good local color of the sort available in publications around the state, but Richmond’s paper offered more by putting its resources to good use and also making deft choices in wire content. The result was a pleasing package over two full pages inside, to bolster a lead story and a wire profile of Ryan out front.

The local lead story, in addition to the basics, added this nugget to explain why Virginia was the stage for this bit of news-making:

“Romney picked the key swing region of one of 2012’s key swing states for the Ryan announcement,” said Larry Sabato, head of the Center for Politics at the University of Virginia. “That signal is unmistakable.”

That article was paired on A1 with a Ryan profile from The Washington Post that was thorough, well-written, and full of interesting tidbits (he sold bologna for Oscar Mayer and was voted “Biggest ‘Brown-noser’” by his classmates).

Inside, the T-D talked with Ryan pal GOP Rep. Eric Cantor (who represents much of the Richmond area) and added a sidebar on a Romney flub that looked at first like an endorsement of Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling in the upcoming gubernatorial race over a fellow Republican, Attorney General Ken Cuccinnelli. There was also a metro front column by Jeff E. Schapiro about how Gov. Bob McDonnell may have “shown too much leg” courting the veep nod from Romney.

Fun stuff.

Again, wire choices inside enhanced the package, and added some more substance. There was an analysis piece from The Washington Post on the political consequences of Ryan’s selection; a Milwaukee Journal Sentinel item on Ryan’s federal budget proposal (beyond the Medicare stuff you’ve heard about, it calls for steep cuts in Medicaid, food stamps, and other domestic spending, a hands-off approach to military spending, and sharp reductions in marginal tax rates); and an Associated Press factcheck on Romney and Ryan’s stump talk, to offset some of the campaign hyperbole.

The AP took the air out of a number of talking points: Romney’s claim about “preserving and protecting” Medicare and Social Security, Ryan’s boast that Romney had been a bipartisan budget-balancer as Massachusetts governor, and Romney’s claim that Ryan is an aisle-crossing problem solver. The AP’s response to that last item helps to explain why Ryan is so popular among a Republican base that’s energized to defeat Obama:

The facts: Ryan enjoyed a reputation as a consistent, if occasionally plucky, conservative before Obama took office in 2008. Ryan was known for occasionally bucking his party on social issues and foreign policy. But since Obama’s election, Ryan’s been something of a no-compromise congressman: He’s emerged as a leading intellectual force in the conservative opposition to Obama, joined unanimous blocs of Republicans in opposing Obama’s biggest pieces of legislation and given little ground in negotiations over the budget and the deficit. In 2011, he criticized the work of a bipartisan group of senators, known as the Gang of Six, who were working on a budget compromise of their own.

Nice insights on a quick turnaround, and a valuable service to readers.

Down in Norfolk, where Ryan made his first appearance of the day, The Virginian-Pilot was more subdued in its coverage, but the outlet did offer a sharp Kerry Dougherty column on Virginia’s importance in the campaign, plus aggregated Twitter reaction to the Ryan selection via Storify.

Insightful commentary also was provided in a blog post from Channel 12 in Richmond.
In seven paragraphs, Ryan Nobles squeezed in musings on Ryan’s impact on the presidential campaign in Virginia, McDonnell’s place in the vice president pick sweepstakes, Cantor’s connection to Ryan, former Governor—and current Republican Senate nominee—George Allen’s connection to Ryan, and how Ryan may be perceived by Virginia voters. It was a strong use of a blog to impart a lot of information in a concise, conversational manner, and a deeper look at national politics than local TV typically provides.

With so many empty desks in newsrooms, it takes creative use of resources to deliver maximum news content—and the Times-Dispatch in particular did that in this case. The campaign is heading into the home stretch; it’s good to see signs that Virginia’s media is prepared.

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Tharon Giddens logged more than two decades in newspapers in Georgia and South Carolina as a writer and editor. He is now living on an alpaca farm east of Richmond, Virginia.