For the 2008 presidential contest, by contrast, the Post sent at least four reporters, separately, to Iowa, South Carolina, New Hampshire and Nevada. Of course, 2008 was a very different race. With no incumbent in the White House, there were real primary battles in both parties, and therefore, arguably, a need for more bodies on the trail—not to mention that the Post and most papers actually had more bodies to send four years ago. Additionally, Denver hosted the 2008 Democratic National Convention. The Post beefed up coverage of Democratic politics then, and felt it owed Republicans equal attention, said Kevin Dale, who was assistant managing editor in charge of presidential campaigns and conventions at the time.
Eager to hear also from the news side at the Post about their approach to covering the New Hampshire primary, I emailed Post
news editor editor Greg Moore. His reply:
We didn’t feel the need to send anyone to New Hampshire from news side. We are focused on covering our [February 7] caucus. The editorial page operates independently from the newsroom and Littwin’s work is clearly opinion and appeared in the op-ed section. I have not gotten any complaints.
Moore’s belief that wire services are sufficient to give Colorado readers what they need to know about out-of-state primaries calls to mind this recent piece by Boston Phoenix political writer David Bernstein, about the profound changes over the years—and especially this year—in how the presidential race is covered. Writes Bernstein (and the entire piece is well worth a read):
In the past, most of the journalists on the campaign bus wrote for local newspapers—small, medium, and large publications from all over the country—that sent their own reporters to cover the candidates.
That practice has sharply diminished, just since the 2008 primaries, in large part due to the economic realities of the industry. Just as newspapers have been forced to close overseas and Washington bureaus, they have trimmed back on their on-the-ground campaign coverage— relying on wire-service reporting, and columnists commenting on what they see and read from afar.
At the same time, there is a huge increase in journalists on the campaign trail covering the election for national, political-niche media. That includes Politico, National Journal, Huffington Post, Yahoo! Politics, Fox News, MSNBC, Real Clear Politics, TPM, Slate, Salon, American Spectator, and Daily Caller.
Instead of the general readership of daily newspapers, these outlets target an audience of political junkies.
But if political junkies are being served (and, at times, this is whom Littwin, too, seemed to be writing for from New Hampshire) are the vast majority of Americans—with only so much time and interest in Washington’s workings—being slighted? This is a question I have previously explored, as have my fellow Swing States Project correspondents, and it is one we will no doubt continue to consider as the campaign rolls along.
And, what of the old newspaper ethic of fair and balanced coverage? One could argue the Post’s decision to send an avowed liberal as its only representative to a major GOP primary flies in its face.
For decades, newspapers have gone to pains to avoid any appearance of partisanship in their political coverage, trumpeting their ethics policies and strict rules to ensure that each candidate receives equal coverage and treatment. But it’s a difficult, thankless, and some say, impossible task. (Ask Ron Paul supporters if they think the media has given their candidate his due.) One could also argue bias that is unavoidable — that every article will reflect the writer’s values and politics. News is still a subjective business, in other words, and while those old principles of fair and balanced coverage are good guidelines, they have never been immutable.
Ideally, the Denver Post would send—and Colorado readers would have the benefit of—multiple journalists on the campaign trail this year (news reporters, a columnist or two). The reality is, as Bernstein noted in the Phoenix, many papers of all sizes will send no one. That Coloradoans had a set of local, experienced (and, yes, left-leaning) eyes on the ground in New Hampshire turned out to be far better than better than nothing.