The world of journalism has changed dramatically since the 2012 election that handed Mitt Romney a loss to incumbent President Barack Obama. The realm of political journalism has changed even more. Scrappy upstarts such as POLITICO and FiveThirtyEighty are now heavy hitters.
Legacy media companies such as The Washington Post and The New York Times have pioneered new forms of connecting political readers to the scene with well-crafted video segments to off-the-cuff use of Snapchat and Instagram.
Even college news outlets are pouring more resources into covering political journalism in both investigative and creative ways. One of the the nation’s largest college news outlet, The Daily Iowan (where I am a political reporter), launched The Daily Iowan Ethics and Politics Initiative in 2014 to compete with the state’s largest newspaper, The Des Moines Register, and to cover the state legislature, House, Senate and presidential elections, including the famed Iowa caucuses. The Minnesota Daily at the University of Minnesota and The Daily Tar Heel at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, are two additional standouts.
Just starting out? Here’s a go-to-guide on how to cover major campaigns as a budding political journalist:
1) Be professional and polite but persistent:
Political reporters are some of the most entrenched reporters out there. Established political reporters have a Rolodex of source contacts that spans longer than most of our lifetimes. Familiarize yourself with the state’s heavy hitters who cover the statehouse and congressional races. For those of you living and working in presidential-picking states (Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina and Nevada), keep an eye out for the reporters who are covering the candidates.
Twitter lists are a great way to divide your followers into categories.
When you are the campaign trail, introduce yourself to aides, schedulers and as many local residents as you can. You never know when one of them could become your next source.
2) Sign up for email blasts:
These become a political reporter’s best friend. Signing up for campaigns’ email listservs is not only a bullet-proof way of confirming where candidates will be stumping on the trail, it also says who is organizing their ground game. Many campaigns use email blasts to say who is endorsing them and to attack their opponents on issues.
Note: Be sure to sign up for general supporter emails as well as the media ones. Campaigns won’t always reveal every detail in media emails.
3) Get interactive:
Yes, there are still journalism jobs out there for print-only, general assignment newspaper reporters. But the future of news is here now, and it’s interactive.
The older class of political reporters haven’t all caught on to using data visualization tools, and this is where young political journalists can break in.
Here’s a very short list of some free data tools that you’ll want in your reporting arsenal to distinguish yourself:
Campaign stop stories: Google Fusion
4) Befriend a pollster:
Whether you’re covering a local, state or national race, pollsters abound.
Many polling companies have one or a few employees who focus on a particular race. Once you build a good professional rapport with the company, it may send you polling data before it is posted online, allowing you to scoop your competitors.
A long-standing, nonpartisan polling company that keeps tabs on presidential, Senate and House races is Selzer & Co., based in Iowa.
Ask pollsters to email you their Excel files for such things as approval ratings. From there, you can quickly turn it into an interactive graphic with tools like Tableau Public.
Here’s an example made with Tableau:
5) Dive deep into social media: Most serious political reporters are on Twitter, but it often ends there. As a political reporter, you’ve got to assume that not every potential reader is going to read your 800-word story.
Create an entire news consumer experience:
- Use Snapchat to record key talking points by a candidate, reaction from voters or the environment around you. If you’re located in a major city with a live “Snap Story,” post it there to get more viewers.
- Use Instagram for photos and videos of a candidate speaking. Download the app, Flipagram, to create video or photo slideshows.
- Live-stream an interview or event with Periscope
- Share (then re-share several times) your final story (photos, videos and graphics included) on Twitter, Facebook, Reddit and LinkedIn.
Note: When everything has been published, email it to sources included in the story, family and friends.
6) Facebook event invites:
Coverage of political news with Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat and live-stream apps such as Periscope, is crucial. But Facebook, the global leader in social connectivity, has a unique aspect that makes it particularly useful when tracking political movements: an events tab.
Facebook event invites are a huge draw for the company, but also a potential gold mine for political reporters. Campaign interns are often assigned to create a Facebook invite page and invite their friends to an event. Many times, these events are created before press releases are sent out or hit Twitter feeds.
Several of my friends who work in campaigns have invited me over a dozen times to events such as presidential candidate coffee shop visits, a golf fundraiser with a U.S. Senate candidate or a barbecue with a U.S. House hopeful.
Graphics Interchange Formats or GIF’s (pronounced jif) are image files that are compressed to reduce transfer time. Sites like Buzzfeed pioneered the use of GIFs in posts of cats, dogs and other four-legged friends. Because the images can be both static and animated, they are a great way to capture attention on social media news feeds and attract younger readers.
Like any career field, networking is critical to your journalistic bottom line and can sometimes dictate where your byline ends up. Always ask sources for their business cards. Staying in constant contact with them often results in them reaching out to you with story ideas and people you should speak with.
Get your own business card and pass them out to sources and other reporters. The news industry is constantly looking for the best talent. Finally, if you’ve written a story on a topic a particular reporter specializes in, ask if you can send it to him or her for feedback.
Reach Quentin Misiag at [email protected] or 202-408-1494. SHFWire stories are free to any news organization that gives the reporter a byline and credits the SHFWire. Like the Scripps Howard Foundation Wire interns on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.
Download photos and iframe codes: Campaign-blog.zip