State of play
The stories were different but the situation was the same at papers like the Dodge City (KS) Daily Globe, the Waynesboro (VA) News-Virginian, the Pierre (SD) Daily Journal, the Santa Clarita Valley (CA) Signal and the Pascagoula (MS) Press, each of which also carried no front-page mentions of the dramatic presidential primary.
While the cold-turkey approach to primary coverage was an exception in the industry, the wide range in which newspapers treated the story illustrates the struggle editors are having with finding their rightful place in the evolving media food chain.
Do you cover the election as though the reader presumably had no access to television, radio and the Internet? Do you assume readers got the news someplace else, skip the story and move on to other things? Or, do you do something in between?
While most newspapers followed tradition by giving their top page-one position to the election – many playing off the “comeback” angle – several publications subordinated the story to the middle or bottom of their covers. Some papers resorted to graphics referring readers to stories inside the paper – and the Gainesville (GA) Times summarized the outcome in a box score.
In general, big-city papers made more of the New Hampshire primary than papers serving medium and small markets. The papers that didn’t put the election on page one tend to serve small, relatively isolated markets where they obviously consider their mission to be the top source of local news (as discussed in the Comment below from the Dodge City Globe). In some cases, like that of the Christian Science Monitor, inflexible production windows made election coverage impossible.
While you can understand the decision of local publishers to minimize or forgo coverage of an event most readers saw on TV or the Internet, it is harder to explain why most metros – who have greater resources and electronic competition than papers in smaller markets – could not come up with more creative ways to cover and package a story whose outcome was widely known before they went to press.
The San Francisco Chronicle got a bit out of the box by teaming together three coincidental events – the primary, the mayor’s inauguration and the governor’s state of the state address – under a single banner saying, “What’s Next.” And the Boston Herald, reflecting on the poor showing of former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney, asked in fat, red letters, “Is It Over?”
In fairness, some advance preparations may have been scuttled because the New Hampshire vote didn’t pan out the way most pollsters and pundits expected. And papers were squeezed – especially in the East – by the length of time it took to confim the Democratic vote after the early results did not conform to expectations.
While I fully recognize these problems, most readers (and non-readers) won’t understand why their morning newspaper is printing essentially yesterday’s warmed-over news.
Given that nearly 11 long months of political coverage lie ahead, editors need to start getting under, behind and ahead of the story, so their product remains relevant to the busy audience they covet.