Roanoke Times excels at campaign ‘event coverage’…

…But will the paper turn its resources toward the rhetoric?

VIRGINIA — Last month, the New York Times made an effort to help readers navigate some of the “selective truths,” largely economy-related, being told out on the campaign trail.

“To listen to Mitt Romney tell it,” began the Times, “President Obama is a job-killing, free-spending, big-government liberal who made the recession worse with his policies and endangered free-market capitalism.” Meanwhile, “As Mr. Obama travels the country, he offers the opposite self-portrait, that of a job-creating, tightfisted, government-shrinking pragmatist who saved the country from another Great Depression.”

Southwestern Virginians have heard some version of both first-hand in recent weeks: Mitt Romney’s during a campaign stop at Carter Machinery in Salem on June 26, and President Obama’s Friday night at a rally in Roanoke (next door to Salem).

How has the local paper, The Roanoke Times, covered these two high-profile visitors presenting two very different pitches?

The paper, which excels at using multiple platforms to tell a story, offered a wealth of same-day coverage of both campaign visits. For Obama’s Friday night rally, in addition to a main report on the president’s appearance (and a colorful, “scenes from” accompanying piece), the paper live-Tweeted the visit, Storified it, produced a photo gallery of striking images, and offered an open thread on its Blue Ridge Caucus political blog (which drew 110 comments). Romney’s June 26th visit received similar same-day multi-media treatment, which the paper touted—“Romney event coverage: a successful use of social media tools”—on its blog.

Specifically, per the Times’s blog:

Six staffers attended the Romney event at Carter Machinery, each armed with a smart phone and, thanks to recent training sessions … ready to use Twitter to post updates and photos from the scene. Editors behind the scenes in our downtown Roanoke newsroom worked efficiently to pull tweeted images into Storify and continuously posted updates on

There were some 200 tweets about the event beginning in the minutes after Romney took the stage. There were many tweets before he appeared too.

Roanoke Times’ staffers snapped and tweeted about 20 photos that were added first to Storify and later to a photo gallery.

The paper, in other words, devoted some serious resources to “event coverage” of Romney’s visit—and devoted similarly serious resources to documenting Obama’s stop last week. Southwestern Virginians got a thorough, attractive, multi-media look at each of the two visits, below campaign-pleasing headlines (“Romney says US can restore greatness,” and, “Obama vows to fight for the middle class”).

It would be great to see the paper devote more of these same resources to examining and dissecting what the candidates are saying on the stump—saying about what they’ve done, what they’ll do, what their opponent has or has not done or will or won’t do. The stuff, in other words, of the New York Times piece I cited up top. As one small example, the Roanoke Times, in its reporting on Obama’s visit, passed along without question one of the Obama camp’s claims examined by the New York Times—that “4.4 million private sector jobs have been created during the president’s term so far” (in Roanoke, it was Obama surrogate/US Senate candidate Tim Kaine talking). True? Yes, as long as you start counting “in March 2010, after the money from [Obama’s] stimulus law was flowing and payrolls began growing again,” as the New York Times wrote. Just weeks earlier in Salem, Romney painted a much gloomier jobs picture—though “Mr. Romney counts” unemployment, as the New York Times explained, “from the month when Mr. Obama took office and inherited an economy that was hemorrhaging jobs at historic rates.”

This is maddening and sometimes inconclusive work, yes. But Southwestern Virginians, like voters everywhere, need help navigating and making judgments about these two versions and visions being presented to them.

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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.