New Faces and Ideas on the Pol­i­tics Beat

The Washington Post Sunday - - Outlook -

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.

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