3:49 p.m., Oct. 2, 2014--CNN Digital national political reporter
Peter Hamby wonders whether the exploding use of social media to cover
political campaigns may actually be pushing candidates further away from
the press and the public.
The changing nature of campaign coverage in the Internet age was one
of several issues Hamby addressed during his “The Boys on the Bus” talk
as part of the University of Delaware’s National Agenda speaker series on Wednesday evening, Oct. 1, in Mitchell Hall.
While the title of Hamby’s presentation is a nod to author Timothy
Crouse’s book about reporters who accompanied the candidates during the
1972 presidential election campaign, Hamby said that the 2012 election
marked a major difference in election coverage.
Hamby’s observations on campaign coverage with a corps of reporters
tweeting and using Instagram, Facebook and the iPhone also were worked
into the paper “Did Twitter Kill the Boys on the Bus? Searching for a
Better Way to Cover a Campaign,” which he wrote while a fellow at
Harvard University’s Shorenstein Center in 2013.
“I covered Mitt Romney’s campaigns in 2008 and 2012, and I have seen
some really drastic changes take place in the way campaigns are
covered,” Hamby said. “While I was doing this fellowship, I decided to
write an analysis about how Twitter, specifically, has changed the
dynamic of the campaign. Twitter has accelerated the 24-hour news cycle
to a 24-second news cycle, with something happening every minute.”
While Twitter is the first thing reporters and political operatives
look at from dawn to late at night, the advent of the smart phone has
also changed the “traditional relationship between candidates and their
campaign,” Hamby said.
“During the 2012 campaign, the iPhone became something that scared
them,” Hamby said. “It broke down the traditional wall between
politicians and the pubic.”
The result, Hamby said, is that reporters actually have less
accessibility to candidates because campaign managers see it as their
job to keep a slight gaffe or stumble from blossoming into a full-blown
story on various Twitter-linked sites.
“Mitt Romney could talk about energy or Russia or tax reform, and the
same was true about Barack Obama,” Hamby said. “But, at the end of the
day people were talking about silly micro-controversies that took off on
Question and answer session
During a question and answer session moderated by Ralph Begleiter,
director of UD’s Center for Political Communication, Hamby fielded
questions about covering politics and politicians.
Begleiter and Hamby noted that many veteran reporters long for the
days when campaigns were covered in a way memorably described by the
late Pulitzer Prize-winning author Richard Ben Cramer in his classic
tome on the 1988 presidential campaign, What It Takes: The Way to the White House.
“Richard Ben Cramer’s book was an authoritative piece and an example
of what you used to be able to do in covering a campaign,” Hamby said.
“The old way was to find out what makes a candidate tick. I think that
today we are being cut out of that process.”
In his opus, Cramer described what it was like to literally spend
time with each of the six candidates, including Delaware’s Joe Biden, to
see what they were really like and find out if they had what it takes
to become president.
“I find that fewer and fewer people will now be going on the plane
with the candidates. It costs about $10,000 a week, and you don’t get
that much for doing it,” Hamby said. “There are a number of places where
you can get in-depth information. The notion that you have to be on the
pane to get information is flawed.”
Responding to a student question about what skills a reporter needs
to cover politics in the age of social media, Hamby said that
proficiency in electronic gadgetry is just one of many needed skill
“You have to know how to write, and be aware of things like point of
view and voice, and also be concise and clear in your writing,” Hamby
said. “Try to become an expert on one or two different things and narrow
your focus from there.”
The 2014 National Agenda speaker series, presented by UD’s Center for Political Communication, is free and open to the public.
The next speaker in the series, on Wednesday, Oct. 29, will be Teddy
Goff, who was the digital director for President Barack Obama’s 2012
This year, National Agenda alternates with a political film series and the next screening will be Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb, at
7:30 p.m., Wednesday, Oct. 8, also in Mitchell Hall. This series, “Fade
to Black: Dark Political Humor in American Film,” is moderated by
Lindsay Hoffman, associate professor of communication.
Article by Jerry Rhodes
Photos by Duane Perry