A colleague makes a good point:
The funny thing is, the reporters the blogosphere hates the most (exhibit A: Broder) are the ones who spend the most time talking to voters, while the ones they lionize never come out from behind their keyboards.
I think another key lesson is: What happens at campaign “events” is not the campaign. And the people who show up are not typical.
I should have been more clear about the “detesting talking to voters” thing. I think I focused on it because I was so relieved to find others ALSO don’t like talking to voters. They might not use the word “hate.” I am not good at it, or I think I’m not good at it. On the trail I found lots of people who were good at it, and who also hated/didn’t like doing it. Because of their example — and on the advice of Karen, who before I left on my first Hillary trip told me to talk to AS MANY PEOPLE AS POSSIBLE — I do it anyway. I usually give myself a quota. Five people at this event. Eight at the next. If I’m feeling particularly cranky, I’ll screw up the courage to talk to a knot of people standing together. (Many birds, one stone!) I suspect that most other pathologically-adverse-interviewing-people journalists have similar interviewing tricks. And the reason why it’s a chore is not JUST because I’m lazy and shy; it, usually, also has to do with the second point above: A lot of times, people at campaign events (especially in Iowa and NH) are semi-pro campaign-event goers (or, as some articles last month had it, “political tourists”). Their comments are as polished and empty as the traveling press secretary’s. I have notebooks full of people telling me that they liked McCain’s “heroism,” Romney’s “business experience,” Obama’s “inspiration” and Hillary’s “toughness.” (But can you blame them? That’s the depth of the dialog, they’re just reflecting it…)
I’m sure my colleagues who’ve been at this for longer than I have could give me some more tips on how to do the kind of interviews that yield more substance. As it is, I’ve found my most interesting “actual voter” conversations to come from people I meet in a store or on the street, cab drivers (I’m totally serious.), waitresses, people next to me in airports. Traveling with a campaign is important and interesting, but it’s true you gotta travel outside a campaign to get the whole story. Also I started getting people’s phone numbers so that I could call them a few days later, after the event/news of the moment had sunk in. That extra time yielded much more thoughtful impressions.
I didn’t mean to sound like I’ve seen it all, I just have been intrigued by how weirdly ornate the analysis has been.
UPDATE: This post is much too long and sort of exemplifies the meta-point of the last post I did: it’s easier and more fun to talk about reporting rather than do it. Back to work!
UPDATE UPDATE: God I hate myself for continuing to think about this BUT: talking to voters also doesn’t necessarily mean you get things right or that your analysis is bulletproof. Talking to people, in general, doesn’t make you a better pundit, just a more informed one. (Which is worthwhile!) And the “blogosphere” tends to put a premium not so much on whether you’ve sussed out the mood of the electorate but rather whether you’ve got the facts that went into your analysis straight. So — staying out of the question of who’s ‘better’ — the, ahem, typically “lionized” blogger is very much an apple compared to Broder’s fruitcake. Or whatever. I could totally write a not-very-popular book about this! Sorry again.