"There is, perhaps, no better way to give an hour-long presidential visit far greater staying power than appearing on the pages of the weekly newspaper, particularly in an edition that is likely to be sitting on coffee tables at Thanksgiving time," Zeleny points out, reporting Obama's interviews in Clarion with The Wright County Monitor and in Grundy Center with four other weeklies in a 10-mile radius, three with circulations under 1,000.
Monitor Publisher Barb Mussman, a former elementary-school teacher whose paper has a circulation of 1,367, told Zeleny that no presidential candidate had ever offered her an interview, so "He's going to get a story," not just the usual picture. Her 794-word story focused on Obama's appearance at a local school (where the Monitor photo above was taken) and appeared to devote only 176 words to her interview, in which she asked about education and global warming. Its style was matter of fact, with one major exception: "The word, hope, keeps entering into Obama's remarks."
Zeleny's post spurred dozens of comments. "Everybody here thinks that it’s the blogosphere that is sooooo important - but these small newspapers, I bet they can make a real difference in a community. Why? Because everybody knows the journalists who write them," wrote a poster identified only as Petra. "In the case of Ms. Musmann, readers probably learned how to read in her classroom. Smart move indeed."
David Bordewyk, who identified himself, but not as general manager of the South Dakota Newspaper Association, wrote, "Midwestern community newspapers are plugged in to the communities they serve. The weekly gets a story and Obama gets a better sense of the local pulse. Go one better: Scrap all the TV ads, buy ads in the community newspapers and the campaign will win big."
That, of course, is not Obama's strategy, not Edwards', and certainly not Clinton's. She has yet to grant an interview to John Beaudoin, publisher of the Logan Herald-Observer and Woodbine Twiner, who has gone public with his problem. In a comment on Zeleny's post, Beaudoin wrote, "Barack Obama and his handlers have been extremely professional to work with during this campaign. I have interviewed 21 candidates for President, including Mr. Obama, and I have been impressed with how his people have delivered information to our newspapers. I am the Publisher of two small newspapers in Southwest Iowa and have promised my readers as much information as possible on the candidates. Mr. Obama’s campaign has been top notch (which is something I unfortunately cannot say about Hillary Clinton’s campaign)."
UPDATE, Nov. 27: A survey by NBC News of 15 weekly and small daily papers in Iowa found they had "mixed experiences with all the campaigns, Democratic or Republican," the NBC political unit reports in First Read. "Most papers said that their inboxes were flooded by e-mails from all the campaigns and many received phone calls before an event to remind them to attend. The majority of newspapers reported being able to get a few minutes with a candidate either immediately after the event during the rope line or with a one-on-one interview. Senator Clinton was the exception in this case. Both Edwards' and Obama's staff were praised for their efforts to reach out to reporters and provide access to the candidate." (Read more)