Since early January, 16 of my journalism students at the University of Washington have been covering the 2008 presidential campaign. We've gone new media, adopting a mode of blogging that combines traditional reporting, insights from other news outlets, and first-person commentary. It's somewhere between the voice of The Seattle Times' David Postman and the rancor of the blogosphere: part journalism, part pundit, part political newbies. Altogether, we have presented the campaign through youthful eyes.
Our forum has been Seattlepoliticore.org, and our material has gotten play at The Huffington Post, The Seattle Times, the Idaho Statesman, and a number of blogs for which my students write. We've covered Democratic Party caucuses in Idaho — the state's Republicans don't use this method to select delegates — and the caucuses and primaries of both parties around King County, including Seattle proper and the Eastside suburbs. Later this week, we head to Texas for our grand finale: coverage of the March 4 primary and caucuses. (Yes, Texas has both, too, challenging Washington's delegate process for most-screwed-up status.) It just might be the last big contest for all of the campaigns.
It's been a powerful experience for us, both as students and citizens.
We spent two hours stuck at Snoqualmie Pass, working via cell phones and wireless network cards, and then sped to Coeur d' Alene to see Northern Idahoans brave ice and freezing weather to give Barack Obama 80 percent of their caucus votes. We were barred from entering the Republican caucus in the 37th Legislative District in Seattle's Rainier Beach neighborhood — until the Seattle City Library and a sheriff's deputy intervened — and scored an on-camera interview with Gov. Chris Gregoire at a Democratic caucus in the Magnolia neighborhood. We saw Mercer Island and Sammamish Dems and Repubs conduct themselves with calm and citizen pride.
And along the way we learned some important things about the Obama and Clinton campaigns. We didn't set out to learn these pieces — but the campaigns taught us loud and clear.
In our coverage of the Idaho and Washington state caucuses, there emerged a lean toward Obama in my students' writing about the Democratic contest. This pro-Obama frame occurred for three reasons:
- Because some of the students have serious political crushes on him, even though they've tried to keep all this in check. He inspires them — and I haven't sought to squelch this, being a prof interested in helping students become citizens.
- Because the class is set up as a blogging class, in which politics meets alternative journalism. So their opinion shines through in places, and this was fine as long as they didn't cross over into fan mail.
- Because the Obama campaign treated us like pros — they called us back within minutes, set up interviews, got us press passes, went out of their way to make the campaign accessible. The Clinton campaign, in contrast, didn't return a single phone call, didn't provide press access, and did virtually nothing to encourage our coverage. It was either arrogance or disorganization on the Clinton campaign's part.
Here's one example: Jeff Giertz, the Obama team's on-the-ground point person for the press, answered my phone call when I called to ask about press access to the Obama event on Feb. 8 at KeyArena. He said he'd check on getting passes for my students. I figured I'd wait and see if he actually did. Within five minutes he e-mailed me back, saying it was a go, and he could provide four press passes for my students. I was impressed. Clearly he had a vested interest in getting college students into the press area — and he did what a campaign person should do: He treated us well and welcomed us to his candidate. He told me to call him anytime.
So I did.
Lots of my students wanted to cover this event, so I called Giertz back six hours later and asked for four more passes. He said yes. The next day, when some of my students arrived at KeyArena after the local police had locked the doors and weren't allowing anyone in — including reporters from local TV and radio outlets — the students dialed up Giertz and he personally came and vouched for them. He followed up the day after the event with an e-mail checking in on how I thought things went.
Like what you just read? Support high quality local journalism. Become a member of Crosscut today!