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Olson: More journalists don't always mean better coverage

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Lauris Olson
AmesNewsOnline
Commentary

(Aug. 14, 2011 – 8:30 p.m.) Iowa GOP officials processed about 800 press credential requests for the 2011 Iowa Straw Poll.

The resulting exposure for Ames was phenomenal. Starting the day before the Aug. 11 Republican presidential debate held at Stephens Auditorium at the Iowa State Center, the phrase “Ames, Iowa” could be seen and heard on every nationally televised newscast. Thousands of newspaper and online articles carried an Ames, Iowa dateline between Wednesday and today.

Hilton Coliseum got plenty of exposure. So did the Scheman Center and the surrounding grounds. But most of the press spent very little time covering the community or its people outside of Republicans directly involved with the activities. Such is the narrow focus of national and international media.


Photos of the press area at Hilton Coliseum by Andrew Duffelmeyer/AmesNewsOnline

The number of journalists seeking press credentials for the debate and straw poll were almost double the 450 who sought credentials for the straw poll four years ago. Of course, in 2007 no national network like Fox News had decided to sponsor a televised presidential candidates debate at the same place at the same time.

All this was good for Ames. I’m not so sure it was good for the news business.

Like many in Ames, I appreciate the attention – and the quick infusion of cash they helped bring to the local economy.  But from a straight news coverage perspective, the record-breaking number of journalists in Ames last week was unwarranted and unnecessary.

Remember, the Iowa Republican Straw Poll is a state party fundraiser held five to six months before the first states hold their various caucuses and primaries. Many of these candidates’ names could be just footnotes in the National Republican Party’s history book by the party’s national convention a year from now in Tampa, Florida. It may help boost a campaign or quench a quest for the Republican hopefuls, but it occurs too early in the contest for most American citizens to give it more than a few passing thoughts.

I’ve covered three Iowa Straw Polls. The Iowa GOP does a great job of planning, promoting and producing it. Ames and Iowa State University do a great job of hosting it. Serious issues are discussed by a concerned segment of the Iowa population. Food, music and few carnival games keep it light-hearted and fun.

Did the nation and the world really want or need 800 journalists – many of them representing “mainstream media” that have contracts through the Associated Press to share content– to spend four days in Ames, Iowa covering the Iowa Straw Poll?

I wonder if the management who dispatched them to Ames would have kept them home if they could have seen first-hand rows of journalists sitting at tables on a basketball stadium floor and watching the straw poll speeches on television screens because the elevated platforms holding television crews blocked their view of the "live" events.

I’m opposed to ‘pool reporting,’ the practice of allowing only a limited number of journalists access to information or activities with the understanding that the selected will then share the resulting reports with those excluded. Pool reporting has been enacted in the past by the military, large corporations and even an occasional judge. The selection process usually favors large media and causes ill will between the selected and the excluded.

But I’m all in favor of those in the news business voluntarily passing on staff-originated coverage in favor of publishing coverage competently originated by another news organization (with permission, of course). That’s why news services like the Associated Press, Reuters, Gannett and many others were created.

The news industry, newspapers and magazines in particular, are supposed to be in financial trouble.  Why spend money and manpower covering something outside of your usual area of operation when your readers could just as well be served by your publication of “wire copy?” (A very-old term still used in news circles to describe articles generated by content services like the Associated Press.)

Why not use content created by the Des Moines Register and the Ames Tribune? They both provided readers with coverage that was accurate, comprehensive, informative, and interesting.

The Register, although categorized as a regional paper, has produced decades of top-notch presidential race political coverage and the reporters assigned the heavy lifting now are upholding the legacy.

The Ames Tribune (they have put “Ames” back into their name) staff put together the most impressive multi-day coverage package I have seen from a local newspaper in at least 10 years.  They had the right blend of candidate information, background, state-level political interviews, local economic impact articles and participant anecdotes.

I’m sure the newspaper readers in those markets represented by the journalists from far away were happy with the coverage they received. It’s too bad they likely missed the opportunity to experience Iowa coverage of this uniquely Iowa event. The Register and Trib have posted their coverage online. But the event is over. The nation's attention is turned elsewhere.

I hope the next community to host the horde of 800 gets as good of service from their local media.
 

800 does seem a bit

800 does seem a bit excessive. Although your argument presumes that news sources such as The Trib or Register can be regarded by outsiders as neutral. Speaking for myself, I don't regard any news source as neutral, so if I owned a media outlet and really cared about the story, I would want my own people there.

Grammar?

Would that read better if it were "More journalists doesn't always..."?

Grammar?

Would that read better if it were "More journalists doesn't always..."?

Grammar, maybe, . . .

. . . but mousing, I an not always so good at.
And clicking, even worse.

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