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From AJR,   October/November 2011  issue

Campaign Coverage in the Time of Twitter    

How technology has transformed reporting on presidential politics Thurs. August 25, 2011


By Jodi Enda
Senior contributing writer Jodi Enda (jaenda@gmail.com) has written about Politico, changes in campaign coverage in the age of Twitter and Bloomberg News in recent issues of AJR.      

The late, legendary R.W. Apple Jr. covered 10 presidential elections for the New York Times, the last in 2004. Once dubbed "America's most powerful political reporter," Apple was notorious for his ambition, his appetite and his ability. He lived large, ate large, spent large and, above all, wrote large. Everything about the man was outsize. His Rolodex was especially grand: He knew everyone, from county chairmen to presidents, and they knew him. For decades, it was so.

Yet less than five years after his death, the iconic political reporter better known as "Johnny" would barely recognize the beat he dominated for so long. He wouldn't know many of the young new reporters on the campaign trail, of course, but neither would he know a number of the media outlets that employ them. More significant, Apple wouldn't recognize the way reporters of today do the very job that he defined interview by interview, word by carefully chosen word through all those election cycles.

No longer do reporters slog elbow to elbow with presidential contenders vying for votes in Iowa and New Hampshire. No longer do they get to know the candidates in a way that voters do not up close and personal, with their feet up, their guard down and, perhaps, a drink at the ready. No longer do they have the luxury of weeks or days or even hours to gather string and dig deep and analyze before they write a story. Heck, many reporters scarcely have time to write what Apple would have considered stories, so busy are they thumbing 140-character tweets, tapping out blog posts and shooting or appearing in video.

Johnny Apple might have ruled the road by virtue of his overbearing personality, abundant eccentricities, audacious expense accounts and sheer chutzpah. Writing in The New Yorker in 2003, Calvin Trillin noted that "Apple stories constitute a subgenre of the journalistic anecdote." But it was his exquisite skill that made him a staple of the Times' front page and allowed him to frame issue upon issue. His reporting was deep, his access to sources vast, his writing both good and fast. On stories long and short, he provided insight that was unique, analysis that was apt, historical details that put the news in perspective. He wrote with the authority acquired not only by spending years on a beat, but by researching excessively and reporting tirelessly. He was a master at what we used to call shoe-leather reporting.

I can't imagine him tweeting.

Or being a captive of a social network culture that measures scoops in seconds and requires journalists to stop reporting in order to tweet or blog or post video in incremental, bare-boned tidbits.

To be sure, Apple valued scoops and had more than his share of them. Then again, he had all day, if not longer, to chase them, confirm them, put flesh on them and make them worth reading. It's a luxury few of his journalistic successors enjoy.

"There truly isn't a news cycle," says Jeff Zeleny, who, as the current national political correspondent for the Times, is Apple's rightful heir.

Although Zeleny still has more opportunities to develop his stories than many of his competitors, he, too, is caught up by the demands of social media. This year, he tells me, he started tweeting. He also blogs and appears in video posted on the paper's Web site. In the early morning hours of Sunday, May 22, I spotted Zeleny sitting alone in the corner of a trendy Washington restaurant during a pulsating party peopled by journalists, lobbyists and political operatives. It didn't take long to discover that he and some others in the room were tweeting the news that Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels had decided not to seek the Republican presidential nomination. While Zeleny was hunched over his BlackBerry tapping out a quick story for the Times' blog (which he tells me he expanded when he got home), I heard two party-goers from competing news outlets acknowledge, only slightly begrudgingly, that his tweet beat theirs by some number of seconds.

"As a guy who remembers covering campaigns before cellphones, the whole thing seems stuck on fast forward to me, because we're all essentially on deadline every hour as opposed to a couple times a day," says Howard Kurtz, who for many years wrote about the media for the Washington Post and now serves as Washington bureau chief for the newly conjoined Newsweek and Daily Beast. "The fact that we can post stories or tweet items instantaneously is a terrific development but also threatens to overwhelm us with the ephemeral."

Competition for scoops, always robust, has intensified not only because of the 24/7 news cycle brought on by cable news and the Internet but because of the upsurge in Web sites, including The Daily Beast, that provide original reporting. During the last presidential election, most sites that were not part of larger news organizations primarily the old-school kind such as newspapers, magazines and television networks simply aggregated or regurgitated campaign news that was first reported elsewhere. (Politico, which was created in the Web era and made a splash covering the 2008 race, has a print product.)

That was then. Now, as newspapers and magazines continue to pare both their staffs and their campaign budgets, many old-time journalists are migrating to Web sites with newly minted Washington bureaus and hotel reservations in early caucus and primary states. Well-known Washington fixtures among them Kurtz, Howard Fineman, Tucker Carlson, Carl Cannon left traditional media outlets to play leading roles at Web publications. Some of the sites, such as The Daily Caller, were founded after the last presidential race. Some, like Yahoo!, are dispatching campaign reporters for the first time. Others, including Talking Points Memo, RealClearPolitics and The Huffington Post (now a part of AOL), have beefed up their political staffs appreciably.

Despite hiring in some quarters, it is quite possible that the majority of people tracking the candidates this year don't fit the traditional definition of journalist at all. They include full- and part-time bloggers, paid and un-, people with other careers who report on the side, people who attend campaign events and blog or tweet their impressions, supporters and opponents of candidates, even people called "trackers" who are paid by partisan organizations to follow candidates with an eye toward contradictions or gotcha moments that could take them down a notch or altogether. In 2008, HuffPost broke new ground with a citizen-based reporting project called OffTheBus, which showcased stories by no fewer than 12,000 unpaid bloggers. It is planning an even bigger reprise in 2012.

"Use of social media and electronic media obviously means that anybody with a laptop, anybody with a PDA, is a journalist," says Roger Simon, Politico's chief political columnist and another newcomer to news-by-tweet.

The crucial questions, of course, are whether these changes are good for political journalism and whether they are beneficial to readers and viewers, particularly those who vote. As with so many things, the answers are nuanced and full of he said-she said/on one hand-on the other hand vacillation. Even practitioners of the latest forms of political reporting are torn about their effectiveness. Almost to a person, they bemoan the loss of time to engage in in-depth reporting, to go beyond the story of the day to unearth the insightful gems that really tell us something instructive, something fundamentally important, about the men and women who would be president.

"We're much more likely this cycle to have covered in detail the medication [Republican presidential candidate] Michele Bachmann takes for her headaches than the policy ideas that are coming out of her mouth," says Susan Page, Washington bureau chief for USA Today. "One is easy to understand, interesting, likely to get a lot of hits. Policy issues are harder, difficult to make sexy. It requires a different kind of commitment."

At the same time, though, political reporters extol the technology that allows them to know everything a candidate says and does (publicly, at least), that gives them easy access to anything that journalists, bloggers and even regular Joes who attend campaign events write or tweet or post, and that might just might help journalism, if not newspapers, survive. As to my query about the impact on the electorate and, therefore, on democracy itself, my rather large sampling of political reporters (many of whom I befriended not friended while covering earlier campaigns myself) was generally positive. Voters have access to more information than ever before, these journalists say, though they might not have the time or inclination to look for it.

"I think the pluses of technology are obvious. What it allows you to do is layer the coverage in a way that allows voters to drill down and see what they want to," says Kathy Kiely, managing editor of politics at National Journal. She is pleased that news outlets can link to documents and audio and video of candidates. "I'm a big believer in the power of words, but there's nothing like actually hearing the voice of a candidate, the timbre, how they're saying something.

"The downside and this is what we really have to be cautious about is becoming so enamored of the here and now that we forget to put things in perspective. We love to chase the fire bell. One of the things that I worry about is that with Twitter and any of the instant communications tools that, to quote T.S. Eliot, we end up measuring out our lives in coffee spoons. We are obsessed with beating the competition by one or two seconds," Kiely says. "The balancing act is trying to take advantage of the new technology to engage readers, to get the word out about a story but, at the same time, examining your conscience and saying, 'Am I really providing enough perspective, context, or am I just tweeting the election away?' "

Carl Cannon is a veteran newspaper, magazine and Web writer known for lengthy, heavily reported discourses tinged with historical reference. Named in February the Washington editor of RealClearPolitics, a Web site that started as an aggregator and now produces original reporting, Cannon worries that journalists are losing sight of the big picture.

"Everybody wants the latest-latest," he says. "This is the good news and the bad news of Internet journalism. You have something new, people click on it. That's good because we worried for a time that the only thing left would be opinion journalism. But people care about the news. The bad news is it's trivial and/or incremental the latest lint."

Journalists (however defined) aren't the only ones who have changed the way they do things. It was not so long ago that presidential wannabes actually talked to reporters, schmoozing with them on the campaign plane or in the back of the bus, currying favor with the scribes they sometimes loathed and feared but always needed. In 2000, I was among a large group of reporters with whom Al Gore danced and joked (off the record) during a birthday party he threw for his wife, Tipper, atop a riverboat that was slowly making its way down the Mississippi. That same year, many of us spent days crammed into the rear of a campaign bus with John McCain, who answered as many questions as we could ask while crisscrossing South Carolina.

In campaigns of yesteryear, a candidate would wander back to the press section of his chartered plane from time to time so that he (it was always a "he" then) could get to know reporters and reporters could get to know him. They might talk movies or sports or, possibly, issues. Often, these sessions were off the record. That doesn't happen anymore, not in an era when the traveling press records a candidate's every utterance on smartphones.

"The mores of the plane have changed," says Howard Fineman, editorial director for the AOL Huffington Post Media Group and a 30-year veteran of Newsweek. "The old days where the candidates used to play cards and drink bourbon with the reporters are gone with the teletype machines."

Politico's Simon recalls how his access to candidates has declined, bit by bit, during the course of covering 10 presidential races, for several news outlets, starting in 1976. That year, he says, Ronald Reagan routinely invited reporters to sit with him at a table in the rear of his campaign bus. In those years, Simon and other reporters had plenty of time to talk to candidates one on one or in small groups. "Nowadays," he says, "a reporter considers herself or himself lucky if the press secretary returns the call."

While the distance between candidate and reporter is partly a function of the size of the traveling press corps (I've been at events in Iowa and New Hampshire where journalists outnumbered potential voters), it was exacerbated by the Internet and social media.

"The candidates are more afraid of us because of the echo chamber effect that the electronic media feed into," Simon says. "Everything is written, tweeted, retweeted, goes on TV, in print, blogged. The smallest slip can destroy a candidacy."

Adds Kiely: "The ubiquitous YouTubization of campaigns means that everyone is a lot more guarded than they used to be."

No politician wants to be the next George Allen, the Republican senator from Virginia who in 2006 upended his own reelection campaign when he called a Democratic volunteer armed with a video camera at an Allen event "macaca," a term widely considered to be a racial slur. The young Democrat posted the video online, where it went viral, effectively ending Allen's campaign.

These days, candidates prefer to talk directly to voters, skipping the middle men the old media that Apple knew so well and utilizing Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and other new-media tools. To sell themselves, they create their own video, carefully scripted and edited, with nothing left to chance. To make announcements, they go straight to Twitter, often not bothering to alert the press first. They live-stream their events so that voters can watch them as they occur, unfiltered by the evening news. They ask supporters to "Like" or "Friend" them on Facebook, endorsements that, cumulatively, could prove at least as influential as those bestowed by editorial boards.

Republican candidates this summer even debated via Twitter, taking questions from, well, people who tweet. President Barack Obama responded to tweeters' questions during a July town hall meeting.

New-media tools allow candidates to engage in conversation directly, in a way they never could before, with citizens who don't live in early voting states like Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina. And they give campaigns inordinate control over their messages.

Consider the launch of Tim Pawlenty's campaign for the Republican presidential nomination. Pawlenty's press secretary, Alex Conant, boasted that the former Minnesota governor announced his exploratory committee in a video first posted on Facebook and then on YouTube. The night before he officially joined the race, Pawlenty's campaign posted a "teaser video" online. (It wasn't much of a tease, since Pawlenty's candidacy was never really in doubt.) Video on campaign Web sites or YouTube serves a dual purpose: It gets the message out without the expense of advertising, and it frequently generates free publicity from the press and blogs. (Pawlenty dropped out of the race in August after a disappointing third-place finish in the Iowa Straw Poll.)

Candidates also utilize new-media tools as a means to defend themselves. With the help of electronic alerts, they have near-immediate access to almost everything that is written about their campaigns. This allows aides to lobby writers to quickly change what they don't like.

"During the '08 campaign, I posted an item at one event, and by the time I got to the next event, they were questioning something in it," recalls Mark Z. Barabak, national political correspondent for the Los Angeles Times. Today, that would be considered glacial. "Now," Barabak says, "you hear from them minutes later."

By way of example, he notes that he didn't even know the paper had posted his story one night this July until he received an e-mail from an aide to Texas Gov. Rick Perry, who was displeased with something Barabak had written and wanted it changed. Following a rapid exchange of messages, the two agreed to disagree.

The campaign of Republican Jon Huntsman has set up an entire operation which it calls the "Reality Room" to respond to tweets and other postings that contain inaccurate information about the former Utah governor and ambassador to China.

"That really allows us to rapidly respond in a literal sense," says Press Secretary Tim Miller. "Rapid response has always been part of a campaign. But we're trying to do rapid response in real time."

Not only does the Reality Room react to journalists but also to voters who are tweeting or blogging about Huntsman, Miller says. Eventually, he says, the campaign will have a way to determine which tweets are most influential so it can focus its energy there.

Miller, who worked on John McCain's primary campaign in 2008, says candidates' communications shops have to be more nimble now because reporters and non-reporters are writing and tweeting about things that in the past would have been considered too trivial.

"The day-to-day campaign minutiae is being followed by everybody. Last time it was just Politico and a handful of people that were really looking at the nitty-gritty of the campaign," he says. Now, Miller points out that even the most esteemed newspapers have set up blogs both to break news around the clock and to provide a home for information that might not be significant enough to make the print product. The New York Times has The Caucus; the Washington Post has The Fix and The Fast Fix; the Wall Street Journal has Washington Wire; NBC News has First Read. ABC News, which began The Note as an internal e-mail, now posts it as a blog. And Politico has Mike Allen's influential Playbook. On top of that, several organizations, including Politico, the Wall Street Journal, the New York Times and the Washington Post, issue "news alerts" e-mails to lists of subscribers notifying them of breaking news stories, significant and not.

Miller has joined the fray in his own way by writing The Morning Hunt, described as "a daily-ish primer of everything in Huntsworld and the random musings of our comms team." Unlike reporters' musings, those of Miller and his colleagues are distributed by e-mail to a select group of people and are on background.

If you ask a bunch of political journalists to identify the biggest change in political reporting this election cycle, the answer comes in a short burst: "Twitter!"

The microblogging service was founded in 2006 but played little if any role in the 2008 campaign. Now, however, it has become an indispensable tool for campaigns and the people who cover them.

"We all follow the candidates on Twitter," USA Today's Page says. "Twitter for me has replaced watching the wires. It's a faster way to find out what's happening... On Twitter, I see what [GOP frontrunner] Mitt Romney just said but I also see what Herman Cain [a second-tier candidate] just said. You see if the New York Times has posted a story but also if The Daily Caller has posted a story. It's 360 degrees. No one is filtering the news for you. It's not just what the AP thought the lead was."

National political reporters tell me they use Twitter to follow each other as well as to keep track of what local reporters in key political states are writing. It puts them in touch with bloggers from around the country. It lets them know when the campaigns are releasing information.

The proliferation of social media means that reporters have to know how to do a lot more, technologically speaking, than ever before. "Nobody's just a reporter anymore," says Mark Edgar, deputy managing editor of the Dallas Morning News. "Everybody is a blogger, a videographer, a photographer, a writer, a tweeter." Readers, too. Gone are the days when reporters would open the mail to find handwritten notes from readers, sometimes around the edges of a clipped newspaper article. Instead, reader comments are public, posted at the bottom of stories.

"It's definitely a two-way conversation," says David Kurtz, managing editor and Washington bureau chief of Talking Points Memo. Readers send links, tips, insights, he says. "That helps inform our coverage."

Political reporters say technological innovations, far from detracting from their journalism, give them new avenues with which to reach readers.

Lynn Sweet, Washington bureau chief for the Chicago Sun-Times, says the trick is to figure out the best way to deliver each facet of information. Consider: In July, Sweet participated in a conference call with Obama adviser David Plouffe, who was opining on the contentious debt ceiling debate. One vivid quote in which Plouffe likened House Speaker John Boehner's proposal to the Loch Ness monster grabbed her attention, so she tweeted it before hanging up the phone. After the call, she lengthened her report in a blog post. She retools stories for the print version of the paper and often posts what she writes on her Facebook page. To complete the circle, all of her work snakes its way onto her blog and into tweets.

"I have it set up so that my blog headlines automatically go to my Twitter feed. It's just another way of letting people know what I file," Sweet says. "Because I have various outlets, I can decide where information goes."

The plane was once the place to be.

Winging across the country, making three, four, five stops a day, chewing the fat with candidates, staffers and other journalists and moving from event to event to event was a treasured opportunity for political reporters. The plane provided journalists with valuable access to candidates and to the people who were running their campaigns, honing their images, crafting their policies and framing their speeches. It gave reporters an inside peek at a campaign. And it was the best way to keep tabs on a candidate.

Not anymore. With Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, live streaming and other innovations, it's no longer necessary to be with a candidate to know what he or she is doing. In fact, several veteran reporters tell me it can be a disadvantage to be stuck "in the bubble."

It's also outrageously expensive. Traveling with campaigns can cost many thousands of dollars a week, money that news organizations can't afford to spend the way they did in the past. As a result, regional newspapers that previously placed reporters on campaign planes, papers like the Boston Globe, the Houston Chronicle and the Dallas Morning News, either have stopped altogether or pulled back significantly. Television networks, meanwhile, stopped assigning their big-name talent to travel with candidates and instead created the so-called "embed" system, in which young producers are on "body" coverage.

"There are fewer people observing these candidates up close and more people writing about them from afar. There are a lot more people opining, blogging, tweeting, but not out there looking at candidates face to face," says Zeleny of the New York Times, one of the papers that still assigns reporters to trail candidates. "That's not a great trend."

Some outlets are trying to continue to travel, in creative ways. For instance, National Journal and CBS are teaming up to embed young journalists bearing video recorders with each candidate, Kiely says. CBS will edit video and National Journal will provide text to be used on both of their Web sites.

Most news organizations are going to more of a zone coverage. They'll send reporters to Iowa and New Hampshire to the first caucus and primary, respectively. After that, they'll travel when they see a good reason to.

"Even if we had unlimited resources, I don't think spending every day trapped in the bubble is the smart way to go," says Howard Kurtz, of Newsweek and The Daily Beast. "I think you learn more when you dip in and out and have more perspective on the race. With so many news organizations covering this campaign, we have no desire to duplicate what the AP does. We are going to concentrate on breaking stories, painting a fuller portrait of the candidates and doing smart analysis of the dynamics of the race."

Kurtz, who continues to critique the media in a blog and on "Reliable Sources," a show he hosts on CNN, voices comments that are similar to many I hear from people at news outlets old and new. Editors at print publications are particularly concerned with saving money, but their counterparts at Web sites are focused on doing things differently. Sure, they say, they'll write about the candidates' activities. But that's just one piece of the campaign puzzle.

"Our task is to find new and interesting stories and not duplicate what perfectly good reporters are doing," says Tucker Carlson, editor in chief of The Daily Caller. Carlson, a print and broadcast journalist known for his conservative punditry, says the one-and-a-half-year-old outlet has 31 reporters and editors, who also write. They are looking for innovative ways to cover the campaign and the candidates. In July, The Daily Caller broke the story that Michele Bachmann suffered from migraine headaches.

Talking Points Memo's David Kurtz (who is not related to Howard Kurtz) says he will use his reporters to write stories not presented elsewhere. "We want to bring a more robust, textured coverage that includes traditional ways of reporting, but that also takes stories that are bubbling up from the state and local level and elevates them to the national level," he says. "We want to cover the horse race, but we also want to go deeper. Horse race coverage is insular and incestuous.

We're very conscious of not getting caught up in that."

He says TPM will assign reporters who are experts on such issues as health care and debt reform to take a close look at candidates' positions and track records.

Chris Lehmann, managing editor of the Yahoo! News blog network, says his staff will use crowdsourcing by asking questions of its readers as one way to learn what voters are thinking. "We understand that our readers are a big asset," he says. "We're a new-media company, and that's how we think. It's the largest readership on the Web. We would be foolish not to get them involved." Lehmann reports that the group of five blogs received more than 1 billion hits in its first year, which ended in July.

The behemoth that is AOL and The Huffington Post will be covering the campaign in a number of new ways this time around, Fineman tells me. First, he says, HuffPost has tripled its Washington staff to 30. Then, he says, it is dispatching a bunch of video people, which it calls "preditors" (for "producer-editors") to the campaign trail to augment staff-written stories and produce some of their own. What's more, it will boost its coverage exponentially through its Patch network of more than 850 hyperlocal news sites in 22 states (see "Hyperlocal Heroes," page 22). Fineman says the company is hiring 33 professional journalists to run 11 Patch sites in Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina, three of the states where the first voters will weigh in next year. Journalists and nonjournalists blog on the sites.

Patch sites in Minnesota informed HuffPost's coverage of the government shutdown there this summer, and Fineman says a similar partnership will go a long way toward enhancing its coverage of the presidential race.

"We have national reporters to chase after Rick Perry," Fineman says of the Texas governor. "What we want Patch editors to do is tell us what the local selectman is saying. What are they saying at the megachurch? What are they saying at the coffee shop?" Because of Patch's extensive reach, he says, "Nobody else will have that capability, nobody."

OffTheBus, HuffPost's citizen-based reporting project, drew fire in 2008 for its reliance on unpaid bloggers. One of them, Mayhill Fowler, who spent her own money trailing candidates across the country, gained national attention when she quoted Barack Obama telling contributors herself included that it wasn't surprising that voters in downtrodden small towns become "bitter" and "cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren't like them..as a way to explain their frustrations."

HuffPost is inviting citizen journalists to come aboard but stay off the bus again.

And what of the plane?

"At the appropriate time, we'll have people on board, of course," says Fineman, an old hand at campaign travel. "We can afford it. But most of the people are standing around on the tarmac twittering the whole time or sending e-mails... When you're on the plane, you're in the worst place because you're not on the ground and you're not in the blogosphere, unless the plane has Wi-Fi."

Reporters might be choosy about which campaign events they attend, but a new breed of players called "trackers" most certainly are not. These people almost always show up, says Miller, Huntsman's press secretary. Trackers are not journalists. They are partisans, and they follow candidates they hope will lose. So far in this campaign, with only a Republican primary, the trackers are Democrats.

Armed with video cameras, the youthful brigade aims to hit just about every Republican town hall meeting, speech, meet-and-greet and press conference. What does this have to do with journalism? Everything. Rodell Mollineau, president of the new Democratic organization American Bridge 21st Century, oversees 15 trackers and expects to hire more. He has dispatched them to each early primary or caucus state to track nearly every appearance by a Republican candidate. He also has 22 researchers doing what traditionally has been a behind-the-scenes job called opposition (or "oppo") research. The purpose is not only to look for gotcha moments, Mollineau says, though he wouldn't mind if one occurs. It also is to look for contradictions. And to bring them to the attention of reporters.

"There's a very strong press corps out there," says Mollineau, who was previously a spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.). "You can't cover everything. Sometimes our trackers and our research will help uncover story lines that a reporter didn't see or, frankly, didn't have time to cover, because they had to cover the story of the day."

As an example, he mentions a small to-do in May, when Pawlenty repeatedly referred to "Iran" and "Iranians" although he was clearly talking about the American military involvement in Iraq. The reporters on hand largely ignored the mistake. That's where American Bridge stepped in. Mollineau made the video available, and it wound up in many a blog post written by traditional journalists and others. Politico's Ben Smith credited American Bridge for tipping him off.

"Is it game changing?" Mollineau asks. "No. But did it create a little bit of a buzz? Yes."

Next year, after Republicans have selected a nominee, Mollineau anticipates American Bridge's role will be more significant. "I think we all know that candidates on the Republican side tend to run to the right in primaries and then become centrist in the general election," he says. "Voters have a right to know which candidate it is: Is it a radical right candidate or a centrist candidate? It also is something that journalists will want to look at."

American Bridge is not the only group working to fill in journalistic gaps. Bill Burton, until last year a deputy press secretary in the Obama White House, runs Priorities USA and Priorities USA Action. The former is a nonprofit that fights on behalf of the middle class. The latter is a superPAC a political action committee that can raise and spend unlimited amounts of money that fights on behalf of Obama and against potent Republican superPACs that are trying to unseat him.

Because reporters are tweeting and blogging and shooting video and filing all day long, they have little time to dig into candidates' backgrounds and their positions on issues, Burton says. He says his group will "do what we can to raise awareness of some of the issues that are overlooked as a result of reporters doing less in-depth reporting."

When Johnny Apple died in October 2006, his Times colleague Todd Purdum wrote an eloquent obituary that quoted Apple in an old interview with Lear's magazine: "Newspaper people love impossible dreams... I suppose we're reckless sentimentalists. If we didn't love impossible dreams, we would not still be working in an industry whose basic technology was developed in the 16th and 17th centuries."

That technology changed mightily before Apple died, and changes still. The impossible dreams did not.

As in Apple's life, political reporting is very much about ferreting out information that is important to the functioning and the future of our democracy. Maybe it's the resilience of that dream rather than the tweets, the blog posts, the circle of friends or number of clicks that still defines what or who a journalist is. Maybe it's the curiosity, or the tenacity. Maybe it's the willingness indeed, resolve to get to the bottom of a story, to root out the truth, that will determine the future of political reporting, whether it is delivered in a 140-character tweet, a 240-word blog post, a 10- or 20- or 50-inch story or a two-minute video.

Or whether it is tossed onto doorsteps each morning or whisked across the globe in a matter of seconds.