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Gearing Up For Another Season Of Campaign Reporting


From the studios of NPR West in Culver City, California, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Arun Rath. Brace yourselves, it's almost that time.


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RATH: Yeah, smell that - the breeze carrying the faint odor of the 2016 presidential campaign? It's never been pretty, but Dylan Byers of Politico says the proliferation of news sites and the ascendance of click bait has some of the nation's news directors dreading 2016.

DYLAN BYERS: What makes the dread especially heavy this time around are two things. One, I think that the 2012 presidential election was a real slog for a lot of reporters, right? If you're coming out of 2008 when you've got the Obama-Hillary narrative going on - Obama, McCain, Sarah Palin. I mean, that is such an exciting election. And then 2012, I mean, there's so much just about gaffs and about minutiae and about sideshows. And so you're sort of looking ahead to 2016, and you're thinking, oh, God, I hope we don't go through that again. The other thing that's happening is that because of the way that the media works right now - not just 24 hour cable news coverage, but also Twitter and social media and everything like that - the desire to constantly have fresh news is more intense than it ever has been before. And as a result, there's a greater hunger and need for content among journalists. And so anything - like, if it moves, shoot it. Anything that happens, they jump on it. And a lot of times, those are things that are totally irrelevant to voters.

RATH: Well, you're right that the web - and this is something that people have been saying for a while - that the internet is changing political reporting. But more so you're talking about stuff in the last few years, the age of click bait, maybe.

BYERS: Yeah. It's click bait. And it's, you know, if you have more outlets and more either reporters or folks who sort of fashion themselves as reporters, regardless of whether or not the fact they're even leaving their desks or leaving their computers, they're all sort of competing for viewers or readers. And they're competing for clicks. And how do you get those clicks? And what you have to do is you have to take to the sort of boring news of the day, and you have to spike it. You have the hype it up.

RATH: And you write about how we have this phenomenon with all these different sources now of a media feeding-frenzy. And I think the earliest example you cite of that is the infamous Swift Boat ads attacking Senator John Kerry.

BYERS: Right. So here's a group, the Swift Boat Veterans, who come forward, and they have a story. And they're trying to push it and make headline news with it - right? - and make John Kerry look bad. And I spoke to Ron Fournier, now at The National Journal, used to be at the Associated Press. He's at the Associated Press, and he says, look, there's no way we're going to cover this story. It's not a legitimate story. And it's sort of beneath us to give these guys a platform to make this case. Over time, you have blogs and other news outlets who do make it a story. Readers certainly love it. The thing sort of picks up. And then all of a sudden, news organizations like Associated Press are there, and they say, like, there's no way we can't cover this. And that's the way that the sort of feeding-frenzy can move news organizations that would otherwise exercise editorial judgment to maybe abandon that judgment.

RATH: Is this going to bottom out and start coming back up? Or is this just going to get worse and worse and worse?

BYERS: Well, so most of the folks I talked to for this piece were saying, look, it's just going to get worse and worse and worse. But there were some sort of glimmers of hope. I talked to Peter Hamby from CNN, and he said, look, I think more and more news organizations are realizing that the best campaign reporting happens outside of the news cycle. Don't send everyone running after the same story. I don't need to cover the STEM speech. Let me talk to some voters. Let me talk to some key people who are working behind the scenes. Let me get an original story there, even at the expense of missing three days of the news cycle or three days on the campaign trail. And you know what Chuck Todd, the moderator of NBC's "Meet the Press" said is, look, what distinguishes a reputable news brand like NBC News, like The New York Times? And it's editorial judgment. So if we don't exercise that, what do we have? And so yeah, I do think you see some promise there. Not everyone wants to race to the bottom anymore.

RATH: Dylan Byers writes about the media for Politico. Dylan, thank you.

BYERS: You thank you so much. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.