Victory Lab

Why Journalists Should Be Forced to Work on Campaigns

Barack Obama talks with supporters during a visit to a campaign field office in Port St. Lucie, Florida, on September 9, 2012.

Photo by SAUL LOEB/AFP/GettyImages

Two weeks ago I wrote an essay in The New York Times arguing that horse-race coverage is bad because journalists don’t understand how campaigns work.

Over the last decade, almost entirely out of view, campaigns have modernized their techniques in such a way that nearly every member of the political press now lacks the specialized expertise to interpret what’s going on. Campaign professionals have developed a new conceptual framework for understanding what moves votes. It’s as if restaurant critics remained oblivious to a generation’s worth of new chefs’ tools and techniques and persisted in describing every dish that came out of the kitchen as either “grilled” or “broiled.”

Today I proffered a solution: journalists should work on campaigns.

We need working reporters who have spent time inside a field office and have the comfort with the street-level politics that an engaged activist would develop after a few months of regular volunteer shifts on a modern campaign.