Matt Yglesias and Ezra Klein are having an interesting discussion of why news organizations spend so much of their resources flying around the country, watching speeches they could watch on television from their offices -- which would free up time to do more fact-checking of those speeches, among other things.
Not only is this business of traveling with the candidate not very useful, with its huge ratio of time spent traveling to time spent doing stuff, but it's also quite expensive for the news organization paying for your travel. And yet, it's considered essential to do it. After all, that's "reporting." And reporting, as we all know, is the essence of "journalism." ... Sit at home and watch the rally on television or look up transcripts, and that's not reporting at all. Sure, you'd save a lot of time and that time could be spent gathering information. And sure, you watching the rally on TV at your desk where you have your internet connection makes it easier to find facts and put things in context. But the important thing is to do the reporting.
The central problem of the modern news media is, of course, supply. 24 hours of cable television a day, political junkies refreshing web sites -- you need more, more, more content. So the campaign pays people to come up with things that reporters can sell to editors and producers. Media organizations then pay to ensure their reporters are in close contact with these people, which assures the media organizations a steady stream of stuff to talk about.
I think both of them are missing a fairly simple point: Big news organizations pay a lot of money to send reporters out on the campaign trail because they can.
Sure, those reporters could stay in the office, watching the speeches on TV and reading the transcripts -- and "find[ing] facts and put[ting] things in context." But they couldn't do that much better than, say, Matt Yglesias and Ezra Klein can. In fact, many of them would do it much worse.
Travelling with the candidate, on the other hand, is expensive. Matt Yglesias and Ezra Klein probably can't do that.
Travelling with the campaign is important to the big news organizations in part because it constitutes a competitive advantage they have over blogs and independent media. They aren't about to sacrifice that advantage in order to focus on finding facts and putting things in context -- things many bloggers and independent media do much, much better than they do.