Be relentless with candidates on issues
DISCUSSIONS | May 22, 2006
1997 Nieman fellow; editor at the Denver Post
Traditionally, campaign coverage is divided into a few different trenches - I'd say three, but others might divide it differently. There is the daily "news" generated by candidates on the stump, gaffs they make, accusations they hurl and buses that drive off the road. There is the reporting on the technical aspects - polls, media buys, campaign finance reports, etc. Finally there are the "issues" stories. These are usually relegated to thumb-sucker take-outs. Dealt with once and then done. "Character" has also emerged in recent elections. I'm not sure if that's counts as an issue.
It strikes me one of the real challenges is making issues and daily coverage more consistent. I know we seem to talk about this all the time - still I think we often let candidates get away with platitudes, deflections and sound bites. Granted it's easier to identify a problem than find a solution. Perhaps part of the answer is to put a dollop of that background, expository and analysis that goes in the thumb-sucker into the dailies - when in a speech or stump appearance the candidate dredges up his or her bromides on a particular issue.
Another approach would be to be more relentless with the candidates on issues and that requires more commitment from the trail reporters. For years, as The Philadelphia Inquirer's environment writer, I did the issues piece on "the environment." But I wasn't the one dogging the candidates day-to-day. Perhaps this is all very obvious, all I know if I read about one more swift boat, I'll gag.