News organizations beef up coverage for Trump's White House

When President-elect Donald Trump moves into The White House, he's going to have a lot of company.

In the last week, several major news organizations — including The New York Times, Politico and The Washington Post — outlined their plans to dispatch reporters to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. In what is perhaps a nod to the hyper-competitive nature of Washington, D.C. political reporting, each newsroom is devoting more reporters than ever to the People's House.

The New York Times, which upped its White House cadre to four reporters after 9/11, is increasing its contingent to six reporters. The Washington Post will have six reporters, plus two additional journalists overseeing White House coverage. Not to be outdone, Politico has named seven reporters to the White House beat, the largest team in the company's 10-year history. A Bloomberg spokesman told Poynter the company is also expanding its White House team.

Why the increase? In an email to Poynter Monday explaining the decision to reassign Jerusalem chief Peter Baker, New York Times Executive Editor Dean Baquet mentioned the "historic" nature of Donald Trump's presidency and the variety of talents each reporter brings to the beat.

"This is an historic presidency and Peter is an expert on the institution," Baquet wrote. "And each member of the team brings something special and different."

A beefed-up White House beat is integral to The Washington Post, said National Editor Scott Wilson, who also cited "a presidency that promises to be unlike any other" in a memo announcing the assignments.

“We're fortunate to be able to continue to invest in our newsroom, and these areas are core to The Post,” Wilson told Poynter. "We look forward to the extraordinary journalism the new teams will do."

Although the possibility of an unconventional Trump presidency may have prompted newsrooms to dispatch more reporters, the growth might also be in response to the changing dynamics of Beltway reporting, White House correspondent Peter Baker told Poynter earlier this week.

"It's not just who the occupant is," Baker said. "It's a reflection of how social media and the pace of news has changed the nature of the beat. In other words, there's such a voracious appetite for anything out of the White House."

The expanding ranks could also be a nod to the expansion of presidential power under President Obama, said Jack Shafer, Politico's senior media writer.

"It only makes sense that we'd experiencing a growth in White House coverage given the fact the already imperial presidency has become even more imperial under Barack 'If Congress will not act, I will' Obama," Shafer said. "The centralization of power attracts coverage, and with Trump both promising to roll back some of his predecessor's proclamations and expand his powers in new directions, we probably need more on the ground reporters than we'll end up with."

Relations between Trump and the press corps have been fraught during the presidential transition. He has ditched the press on two occasions after running an anti-media campaign. GOP Communications Director Sean Spicer, who is reportedly under consideration for White House Press Secretary, says the administration is re-examining traditions like the daily TV press briefing.

Those moves have brought rebukes from the White House Correspondents' Association, which have called them "unacceptable" and concerning.

But will additional White House reporters mean more accountability journalism? Not necessarily, said W. Joseph Campbell, a professor at the School of Communication at American University in Washington, D.C. and a former newspaper reporter.

Most of the groundbreaking journalism about the executive branch over the years hasn't come from reporters sitting in the White House briefing room, Campbell said. Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein were young metro reporters when they broke the Watergate scandal open. Carol Leonnig, who won the 2015 Pulitzer Prize for her Secret Service disclosures, covers federal agencies. And the reporter who led The Post's Pulitzer Prize-winning work on NSA snooping was Barton Gellman, a national correspondent.

Regardless, it's still important to have journalists assigned to the White House and interacting with White House staff, Campbell said. But six per news outlet?

"I don’t know if you need dozens and dozens of journalists hanging out for the White House press briefing,” Campbell said.

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    Benjamin Mullin

    Benjamin Mullin is the managing editor of Poynter.org. He previously reported for Poynter as a staff writer, Google Journalism Fellow and Naughton Fellow, covering journalism innovation, business practices and ethics.

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