PREPARING FOR 2020: News organizations ramp up for an election cycle certain to be dynamic, fast-paced and combative.

Author:Peck, Gretchen A.
Position:Cover story

In the wake of the 2016 presidential election, the press received some rather harsh criticism about its national coverage. Type in "press failures of 2016," and Google will unkindly deliver a long list of critical analysis about the media and how it handled the Trump vs. Clinton battle for the White House.

Disillusioned voters blamed the press for a failure to present Trump as a viable nominee, let alone as their likely future president. Some declared that journalists missed the story of the Trump voter entirely.

That type of criticism--that the press had missed the Trump story--wasn't entirely fair, according to Peter Wallsten, senior politics editor at the Washington Post.

"If you look back at the Post's coverage, we saw Trump as an interesting and important story from the beginning, and we had reports out across the country," he said. "But I think if there was a mistake across the media, it was that people made assumptions. I'm not saying that it is a mistake that the Post made, but I do think there were assumptions about whether Trump could win or not. To the extent that it was a phenomenon of 2016, we are reminding our reporters that an important part of our philosophy for covering politics is to not make assumptions and to not be predictive in our coverage."

The press has also been lambasted for burying the ledes and focusing too often on personality and the outrages du jour rather than on the candidates, their policy positions and the direct impact on the lives of the American people.

Asked how the reporters and editors at the Washington Post plan to strike a balance between personality and policy in its 2020 coverage, Wallsten said, 'We see personality as an important aspect of political coverage. The stories do very well. Also, those stories can tell you a lot about the candidates and their character and what kind of president they would be.

"For instance," Wallsten continued, "we had a piece that we published on Cory Booker and his relationship with an Orthodox Rabbi. It's a fantastic story, and in some ways, that's a personality story, but you learn so much about Cory Booker and the kind of person he is when you read that story. Those sorts of stories can engage readers--and readers who aren't necessarily interested in the political story."

Covering policy is essential, too, Wallsten said. "You have to write about policy in an engaging way. A story that illustrates how we want to take on policy is a piece (we did) about Elizabeth Warren. We took a deep dive on her idea of a 'wealth tax,' and how that was the center of all her policy proposals. We added up the cost of all of her policy proposals, and then looked at whether it was realistic that a wealth tax could pay for it. It was a deeply substantive story--also, very readable...Campaigns are a contest of ideas, in addition to being a contest of personalities, and we see both as crucial for our coverage."

Collaborative Efforts

For some news businesses, collaborations have been born out of necessity--the need to "do more with less." For others, collaborative journalism makes sense logistically and for the benefit of the content.

Julie Pace is the Washington Bureau Chief for the Associated Press (AP). Over the course of her career, she's covered four presidential elections, and now leads a team of political reporters and editors who are based all across the country.

"One of the things that was a real priority for me this cycle was to ensure that our political team wasn't just based in Washington and New York," she said.

The AP's greatest strength, she said, is that it has talented...

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