Political reporters head to Charlotte, complaining about their 'joyless' jobs

Politico | The New York Times Magazine | BuzzFeed | The New York Times

Should we airlift black turtlenecks and cartons of Gauloises into Charlotte? Dylan Byers writes about the crisis affecting political reporters, whose job may sound like fun but is apparently more suited to pondering whether existence is a hole in the fabric of the universe.

If there is one narrative to anchor what often feels like a plotless 2012 campaign, it is media disillusionment. Reporters feel like both campaigns have decided to run out the clock with limited press avails, distractions, and negative attacks, rather than run confident campaigns with bold policy platforms or lofty notions of hope and change — leaving the media with little to do but grind along covering the latest shallow, sensational item of the day.

In The New York Times Magazine, political reporter Mark Leibovich wrote about his quest to find "something that might make me feel, if not joyful, at least more at peace with the joylessness" of this election. NBC News correspondent Chuck Todd tells Byers, "Until the candidates restore joy, it’s impossible for us to be joyful,” and that "if these candidates were comfortable, the campaign might be joyful to cover.”

There are some excellent moments in both pieces, such as when an Obama spokesperson asks Leibovich whether they're on the record after he inquires “How are you?" and when Byers' boss John Harris (sorry to give away the end) instructs whining journalists to "have some fun" with their jobs.

And how can anyone with a job that involves looking at mermaids not have fun? BuzzFeed's RNC party featured those mythical creatures; BF editor-in-chief Ben Smith wrote about why news orgs spend so much covering party conventions, events often derided as news-free. Smith says the point isn't newsgathering but branding, calling the events:

a strange and at times uncomfortable collaboration between a political party and the media, with news organizations investing heavily in shaping their own identities, just as the political parties are.

BuzzFeed spent "more than $20,000" on its RNC party, Smith writes.

But while these branding exercises and searches for joy continue, Sasha Issenberg wrote this weekend that "journalists remain unable to keep up with the machinations of modern campaigns." Reporters have missed out on the "scientific revolution that is quietly reshaping politics," Issenberg writes. Campaigns now use data about voters in ways few journalists understand, leaving them covering the wrong things.

Journalists tend to mistake the part of the campaign that is exposed to their view — the candidate’s travel and speeches, television ads, public pronouncements of spokesmen and surrogates — for the entirety of the enterprise. They treat elections almost exclusively as an epic strategic battle to win hearts and minds whose primary tools are image-making and storytelling.

But particularly in a polarized race like this one, where fewer than one-tenth of voters are moving between candidates, the most advanced thinking inside a campaign is just as likely to focus on fine-tuning statistical models to refine vote counts and improve techniques for efficiently identifying and mobilizing existing supporters.

Alternately, a news organization in Charlotte could brand itself with minotaurs.

  • Andrew Beaujon

    Andrew Beaujon reported on the media for Poynter from 2012 to 2015. He was previously arts editor at TBD.com and managing editor of Washington City Paper. He's the author of the 2006 book "Body Piercing Saved My Life," about Christian rock and evangelical Christian culture.


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