New Faces and Ideas on the Politics Beat
Politics is often covered from the top down, focusing on candidates, staffers, polls, consultants, the race. That’s important, but as a new political team takes charge at The Post, here are some suggestions that focus on voters, what they believe and what part they play in democracy.
Tim Curran, former editor of Roll Call, is the new politics editor, reporting to Bill Hamilton, assistant managing editor for politics, and to Susan Glasser, assistant managing editor for national news.
The team is making changes, including the replacement of The Federal Page with In the Loop, taken from the title of Al Kamen’s longtime column. Lois Romano has a new column on Congress, and Jeffrey H. Birnbaum’s lobbying column has moved to the In the Loop page from the Business section. There’s also Washington Monday on Page A2 and The Sunday Fix by Chris Cillizza of washingtonpost.com and Shailagh Murray of the National Desk staff.
As Hamilton points out, “This is the first phase of a very long campaign. Our goal in the past few months has been to introduce the candidates to our readers and to give some idea of what their candidacies will be about. We’ve also looked for opportunities for traditional accountability reporting — illuminating contradictions or mysteries in their records or backgrounds that would be relevant to evaluating a presidential candidate.”
The Post has a wealth of experience in political reporting, with veterans such as David S. Broder and Dan Balz and new faces coming aboard along with new beats, such as the way new media and the Internet are transforming politics. The print staff will be working with washingtonpost.com, where political coverage is directed by former Post congressional editor Eric Pianin.
Whether national or local, it’s not just the issues but the passion and emotion of politics that need coverage. Politics makes people shout, weep, beat on the furniture and almost on each other over one candidate vs. another. Voters are repelled by and attached to candidates in the most personal ways.
One recent stumble was on the compelling Elizabeth Edwards story. After the first day’s stories (including a good Style story by Style’s Lynne Duke and Romano), The Post dropped the ball on fascinating to look at the political differences between native-born groups and new immigrant citizens. In Maryland last year, most blacks voted for Democrat Ben Cardin, but Republican Mike Steele got more black votes than some thought he would. Asian Americans are usually too small a group to poll, but anecdotally I hear that a lot of people of Korean and East Indian origin, many of whom own small businesses, are becoming more Republican.
Independents. Are independents truly that way — or are they just disgruntled Republicans or Democrats? The drift away from party politics has been noted for many years, but what’s driving it?
The partisan rank and file. The Post deals well with the big picture, but I want to know who these folks are who care so deeply that they pound in lawn signs, make phone calls, hand out literature and are in the ballroom on election night. Who are these people in an area where everyone is time-starved?
Behind the scenes. It’s always a treat to read Newsweek every four years with the stories from the two reporters embedded with two major-party presidential nominees. I would love to see The Post try that with some statewide or even local candidates in 2008.
Non-voters. Who are they and why does the storm and passion of politics leave them cold?
While The Post puts out valuable voters guides before every general election, local readers told me last fall that the paper needs to expand coverage of the Maryland and Virginia legislative races, school board elections and ballot initiatives. Many readers said they depend on The Post for such coverage but found it wanting. In 2008, the Extra sections could be devoted to local races. The Post can lead the way in this important area. Deborah Howell can be reached at 202-334-7582 or at ombudsman@ washpost.com.