"The candidate Mitt Romney on his campaign plane last November surrounded by young, digitally assimilated reporters."
Yes! I am still young! Caption aside, David Carr’s piece about Peter Hamby’s Harvard study on how campaign journalism has changed in the age of social media is a really important read. As someone who covered both the 2008 and 2012 campaigns on the road pretty much full time, I was struck by how different my experience was last year, and I wonder what future campaigns will be like.
Candidates have gotten a lot more guarded—in part because of how news coverage has changed. If Mitt Romney made a penis joke—and yes, he actually did do that once--you posted the quote on Twitter and filed as fast as you could because that’s the way news works now. But what’s lost in campaign journalism today is the idea of spending time with candidates and getting to see who they really are, to find perspective about their candidacies. That’s something I feel is an incredibly important part of being a political reporter.
But now candidates are “on” all the time, and maybe they were before, too. But last year Romney aides were so scared of the candidate doing or saying anything off-script that they kept him away from the press corps as much as possible. I think that was one of their biggest mistakes—not least because the candidate never seemed to find a comfort level when he spoke to reporters on-the-record and that nervousness led to a lot of mistakes.
In the end, the only people on the plane who got to spend any “real” time with Romney were photojournalists who got behind-the-scenes access to the candidate during the last weeks of the campaign. And it was only through those images where you got at least some hint that Romney wasn’t as boring and robotic or cold and uncaring as his public image often suggested. The writers on the plane enjoyed only rare glimpses of that—and the times Romney did actually talk to us, his campaign declared the most interesting parts off-the-record.
But it’s not only Mitt Romney who has limited his interactions with the press. Even Barack Obama kept the media at arm’s length during the campaign—and has gone a step further by limiting his interactions with photojournalists by releasing their own behind-the-scenes images, a move that’s being protested.
To me, these are all bad signs for coverage of future campaigns. Certainly all the potential 2016 candidates are watching and taking lessons about what their relationship will be with the media. And that worries me.