An annotated field guide to the Campaign 2012 press corps
According to the Greater Des Moines Convention and Visitors Bureau, there are some 1,500 of what they call "media visitors" in Iowa right now, attracted by the run-up to the Iowa caucuses beginning formally tomorrow.
In this extended preseason to the actual primary, it hasn't been much easier for the media to get a grip on the story than it has for the candidates: surging second-tier candidates have to be taken seriously until they don't; Mitt Romney looks set to pull away from the field until, time after he time, he doesn't.
For better or worse, the caucuses tomorrow will produce an actual result, kicking off the process of narrowing the field down to a single challenger.
And media outlets now must begin to contend in earnest with the rigors of the Campaign 2012 roadshow. What follows is a list of who's covering what in 2012 for a bunch of different news organizations we wanted to find out about. It's not a complete list, for a few reasons.
One is that not all news organizations responded to our inquiries or were willing to confirm who was assigned to what; we're hoping they'll change their minds, and we're working on them, as well as trying to dig some of this up on our own; but in the meantime, if you know who's covering what on the campaign beat at a place we haven't got covered please let us know.
The second consideration is that we started with a list of national and New York news organizations. (We're a New York website after all.) This is where we're getting a lot of our campaign reporting, but we're planning to add organizations to this list as we find out more and hear from you.
Third, not all news organizations plan their coverage the same way, so it's not always easy even for them to explain who's doing what on the 2012 elections. Major magazines can make big campaign hits and determine the destiny of a campaign without ever putting boots on the ground on the campaign trail; we wanted to know whose job it is to write those, too, at the publications we are all reading around here.
It's also not a final list, because as the campaign twists and turns, there are inevitable reassignments. If the G.O.P. field doesn't have an early breakout candidate, you can expect later primaries to get more coverage and more candidates to have more reporters covering them; if, say, Mitt Romney is the clear lead after New Hampshire, you can expect things to wind down.
It's already happened in some places: The New York Times had reporters assigned to the campaigns of Newt Gingrich (Trip Gabriel), Herman Cain (Susan Saulny) and Rick Perry (Richard Oppel) but has dwindled down its individual campaign assignments: Ashley Parker is still covering the Mitt Romney campaign, but the rest of the team is just reporting generally on the whole field. That's not to say that they're not doing the most work where they know the most: Gabriel's bylines still do seem to focus on Gingrich, for instance, even if that's not officially the assignment.
(That in itself will be interesting to watch: How good an indicator of a campaign's health is a news outlet's continuing allocation of reporting muscle to covering them individually?)
We'll keep updating, adding to and subtracting from this list, with your help, we hope. You can click on my byline for a few ways to reach me directly, or give us a shout in the comments below.
SOME BROAD NOTES: THE 1,500 MEDIA folks in Iowa this year represent a 40 percent drop from 2008, when "media visitors" were counted at 2,500, a fact that The Des Moines Register relates is mostly because there is only one party primary this year. “The major networks won’t need two camera crews to cover both Democratic and Republican caucuses,” convention bureau marketing director Tiffany Tauscheck told the paper.
But how media are organizing their coverage of the 2012 election isn't just a matter of the number of candidates: Other numbers matter. Like each of the organizations' bottom lines for 2011, and what they've meant for their spending plans for 2012.
In the case of The Huffington Post, for instance, which just got a big infusion of cash with the company's purchase by AOL, and which has more than doubled the number of topic-verticals it publishes in just that time, there's also an increase in reporting staff dedicated to the elections. On Election Day this year, the company announced a program it called “Reclaim 2012.” According to a press release, the plan "leverages the company’s unique combination of real-time news, opinion, video, and community; a 24/7 liveblog; upgraded Pollster, Fundrace, and social media monitoring tools; and hundreds of citizen journalists contributing through OfftheBus." But the "citizen journalists" this year are joined by a team of, well, real reporters, part of a hiring program the site has initiated in order to become a player in the professional journalism game.
On the television side, a new crop of anchors and correspondents developed since 2008 are on the scene in 2012 without their elders necessarily leaving the anchor desks, making some teams seem larger. Rachel Maddow will be the main anchor in Iowa for MSNBC, but Chris Matthews will not be long off your screen either; you'll see Wolf Blitzer and Anderson Cooper on CNN, but Erin Burnett's joining them.
Some organizations not often thought of as aggressive reporters on the campaign trail are beefing up this year, too. Bloomberg has been beefing up its non-business coverage over the last year; while there aren't big plans for a reporting outfit, "the company plans to cover the 2012 presidential campaign heavily and will spend lavishly at the party conventions," they told Newsweek in November. Rival newswire Reuters, meanwhile, is assigning nearly twice as many reporters to the election as they had in 2008, a spokesperson told Capital.
Some places that aren't necessarily known for consistent coverage of national politics beyond the occasional large feature story are going granular on politics this year in light of the election; in late November, New York magazine, whose website has always been more of a national than a local title, launched a politics vertical; this year it hired Jonathan Chait from The New Republic as a regular online writer.
Other places already in the business of national political reporting relaunched or retooled their online offerings in advance of the election: Witness the development of NBCpolitics.com.
In print, The Wall Street Journal, which has become more broadly political under its News Corp. ownership than when it was still a Bancroft family newspaper, has started a full page for politics in its Saturday print editions including "rich-data graphic" and a "Poltical Play of the Week"; a spokesperson pointed us to continued development of its Elections page online, where they will work on polling data in a partnership with RealClearPolitics (as they did last election season). More data crunching can be found in an online feature they're launching called "Politics Counts" where Dante Chinni, founder of PatchworkNation.com will crunch political data for the site's Washington Wire.
But not all the news is about expansion: Almost a year after Newsweek's merger with The Daily Beast, the newsweekly has canceled its special election issue, a longtime feature of the magazine.
Overall, it's clear that this election season won't be the making of any news organizations, large or small, established or emerging, as it has in some previous presidential election years.
For one thing, all the primaries are on the Republican side, and early on seemed to favor two candidates whose media operations were themselves either minimal, unstable or at times even nonexistent: Herman Cain and Newt Gingrich. It's hard to mobilize a large reporting team around candidates who keep changing their schedules, hold many events without making any accommodation for press and whose numbers in the polls zigzag all over the place, leaving media organizations to take a shot in the dark about where to allocate resources to find the candidates whose stories have a chance of lasting.
That is, of course, is not stuff that anyone directing the coverage will tell you about 2012; it's just what reporters and editors say amongst themselves.
Compare all this to the campaign of 2008 that pitted three media jockeys—Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama and John Edwards—against each other in a battle among some of the most aggressive and accomplished and successful campaign managers of the last couple of decades, and you can see why the press has a slightly hard time finding its bearings in 2012.
You will see in the list that follows that some news organizations have simply decided not to do what many have done for decades: Assign a reporter or two to each primary candidate, and pile them on the winner as the candidates winnow away and the campaign season gets bigger and newsier (with some reporters reassigned as necessary or sent back to home base to consider new beats, for better or worse.) Instead, there's lots of "reporters" writing about "Republicans," and others about Obama, for the most part.
Then partly it's not about the candidates but about how controlled campaigns have become. The game of hitting the button first on a story that everyone is watching live on television is not where anyone is going to find a competitive advantage. Access is so controlled, there is so much "pool reporting" (where one outlet volunteers to cover an event and distribute notes to the other news outlets), that there is a marked increase in heavily strategized "enterprise" and "investigative" and "feature" desks covering the elections.
"To the degree there is a change," New York Times political editor Richard Stevenson told Capital, "it has less to do with us having some new gimmick or anything as it does with a recognition that the actual campaigning has become so controlled and access to candidates has become so limited.
"Our real added value comes not necessarily just in traveling around with candidates and reporting what they say but in really digging deeply down into … the nexus of power and influence and money and strategy and character that really drives campaigns, defines who candidates are and what kind of president they would be. It takes a big and aggressive news organization to ferret out and present it to readers."
So, here's the list. Let us know what to add, and what changes as the campaign progresses.
The New York Times
Except in the case of Mitt Romney, the Times currently does not have reporters assigned to specific Republican campaigns, but rather has a deep bench covering the field. Coverage of Obama's reelection is handled largely by reporters already covering the President.
Jeff Zeleny: Assigned to cover the Republican field.
Jim Rutenberg: Republican field.
Ashley Parker: Assigned to cover the Mitt Romney campaign.
Trip Gabriel: Republican field.
Richard Oppel: Republican field.
Susan Saulny: Republican field.
Jackie Calmes: The White House; Barack Obama.
Helene Cooper: White House; Obama.
Mark Landler: White House; Obama.
Nicholas Confessore: Campaign finance.
Jeremy Peters: Campaign media and advertising.
Michael Barbaro: Features on the 2012 campaign.
Jodi Kantor: Features.
Sheryl Stolberg: Features.
Deborah Sontag: Features.
Mark Leibovich: Republican field.
The Washington Post
The Post hasn't assigned specific beats within the 2012 campaign story, a spokesperson said; rather its entire political team is on the 2012 beat. The focus of the political blog, The Fix, centers almost entirely on 2012 (including both the presidential and important statewide and statehouse races).
Chris Cilliza: The Fix.
Aaron Blake: The Fix.
Rachel Weiner: The Fix.
Dan Balz: General.
Karen Tumulty: General.
Nia-Malika Henderson: General.
Philip Rucker: General.
Amy Gardner: General.
Sandhya Somashekhar: General.
The Wall Street Journal
The paper appears to be one of the few national newspapers that is extensively assigning reporters to individual campaigns, though beneath that threshold the national political reporters are covering the whole map as a group.
Patrick O’Connor: The Mitt Romney campaign.
Sara Murray: Mitt Romney.
Doug Belkin: Newt Gingrich.
Danny Yadron: Rick Perry.
Neil King: General.
Brody Mullins: General.
Alicia Mundy: General.
Elizabeth Williamson: General.
Janet Hook: General.