Monday, January 07, 2008

Obama worked rural papers in Iowa, and it paid off

While Barack Obama didn't run as strongly in Iowa's rural caucuses as he did statewide, his courting of rural newspapers probably helped him rack up his surprising margin of 8 percentage points. The freshman Democratic senator from Illinois was endorsed by more newspapers than any other candidate in any party -- nine, including four weeklies -- and probably benefited from the coverage that he and his staff enabled. For more detail on endorsements, click here.

"The Obama campaign developed a reputation for doing the little things as it carefully built its organization in Iowa, where personal relationships famously matter in politics. The effort to win coverage in the local media was more ambitious, by far, than anything other campaigns put together," Peter Slevin of The Washington Post's Midwest Bureau wrote in The Trail, the Post's general political blog.

Slevin's example of the attention that Obama paid to small newspapers was Douglas Burns, a columnist for the Daily Times Herald of Carroll, circulation 6,000, and a frequent writer for the Independent (shown with Obama). "He has interviewed the presidential candidate no fewer than six times, including a pair of 15-minute sessions during the crazy final days of December," Slevin wrote on caucus day, Jan. 3. "Look, they kept giving me interviews, and I thought I was putting some good questions out there," Burns told Slevin, noting that he asked Obama about his drug use as a youth. "I wasn't just rolling over. They still did interviews with me after that, which is to their credit. They kept taking the questions."

The campaign's first contact with the Herald came "in March, just weeks after Obama declared his candidacy," when one of its Iowa spokesmen came to Carroll -- population 10,000 and seat of Carroll County, 21,000 -- and met with two staffers for an hour and a half. "Those early efforts to cultivate relationships probably helped," Burns told Slevin. "When they showed us a lot of respect, I looked at it that they were showing Carroll a lot of respect."

In contrast, some small papers in Iowa reported difficulty dealing with New York Sen. Hillary Clinton, who placed a disappointing third in the Democratic caucuses. A survey by NBC News of 15 weekly and small daily papers in Iowa -- which has 272 weeklies -- found they had "mixed experiences with all the campaigns, Democratic or Republican," the NBC political unit reported in First Read. "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." (Read more) The survey was prompted by a report from by the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues.

"Clinton spent 45 minutes at Sam's Sodas and Sandwiches in downtown Carroll with Burns, Lopez and two other reporters," Slevin reports. Burns got 15 minutes with Romney, but "Edwards made no effort to reach out to the local media during his four visits, Burns said." After writing a column headlined "Why Barack Obama will win the Iowa Caucuses," and reporting that as fact, Burns is "back to covering streets and sewers and eight-man football." (Read more)

1 comment:

John Flavell said...

The national coverage v local coverage of the primaries has been a clear lesson in what audience awareness is all about. Local journalists seem to know that and judging from this account the candidates have also learned.

I recall reading a few articles in the last month or so in the Washington Post and the New York Times about the local journalists getting the attention and the national media being forced to cover just the events. Go figure. How many people in Carroll, Iowa read those national newspapers compared to Douglas Burns' work in their local newspaper?

Even some of the NPR work came off as if they were reporting from Iowa as a foreign country.

Obama's people know the answer to that one. They know Douglas Burns looks his readers in the eyes everyday.

Before the next primary season, roughly four years off, the national media would do well to have Burns teach them a little about streets and sewers and eight-man football.