Is political reporting really reporting?

Is political reporting really reporting?

: I’m wondering whether political reporting is really reporting (as I get ready for an ETech Emerging Democracy panel Monday). Here’s where it starts:

: Matt Stoller at BOP did a great public service by recording and posting MP3s of the stump speeches of John Edwards and John Kerry. (Edwards and Kerry here; Dean here.)

I downloaded both and listened to them in the car.

At the time said that Edwards had a killer stump speech (I wasn’t that wowed; more on the speech later). With Dean toasting and Kerry leading, I was also eager to hear what he had to say and how he said it (I was, if not impressed, relieved by that I heard).

I’ve covered campaigns and primaries so I know how it works with the stump speech: It’s repeated over and over and over. But right after listening to these speeches, I was struck how — even weeks later — I heard sound bites with the exact same words and cheer cues in radio reports on the campaign.

This hammered home how useless it often is to trail around after the candidates hearing the same thing day after day so you can act as if you’re on top of the news when, in fact, there’s no news.

This also hammered home the idea that thanks to one guy and an MP3 recorder, all of us could get on the bus. We were there.

: Is political reporting really reporting when most of the material that’s reported is available to all of us on the Internet?

We can hear what the candidate says in his stump speech.

We can read the candidate’s stand on his web site.

We can analyze the same polls the reporters analyze (to make bad bets on the horse race).

So what are the reporters really giving us we can’t get online?

They can hear the party line in the spin zone — but that’s not useful and it’s not really reporting.

: Come to think of it, political reporting isn’t really reporting, for reporting is all about getting information the audience can’t get. But we can get everything of note a political reporter can get from the comfort of our couches. Except one thing…

: Political reporting misses the real story. It needs to turn around and look the other way. The story isn’t up on the stump; that’s the obvious, easy stuff. No, the story is out in the hustings.

The real story is the voters.

What do the voters think of the candidates? (Nobody reported that story on Howard Dean worth a damn, or they would have known he wasn’t the front runner when they said he was.)

What are the issues that really matter to the voters? (As opposed to the issues the candidates and pundits think matter.)

How much does the campaign really matter in voters’ lives? (A lot less than any politician or pundit thinks.)

That’s the real reason to be out on the road: To hear what the voters have to say, to listen.

You can get what the candidates have to say online.

And come to think of it, you can start to hear what the voters say online, too.

: We in blogs have been missing the story, too. We all paid attention to the Dean blog when the real story online is out in the blogs of the voters; it’s one way (still imperfect) to hear what the people (not the pundits) are saying.

But the campaign isn’t over.

Command-Post, BOP, candidates’ blogs, and other blogs can give us a full, informative, and complete view what the candidates are saying.

Considering that we have access to the same information field reporters and newspaper editors have, I now don’t think it’s hubris to think that weblogs can beat the pros at campaign reporting — since it’s not really reporting.

But the harder story to get is what the voters are saying. Can we do a better job of that online than the pros can do in print? Let’s see.