The Allure of the Web: A Rookie Political Reporter Retreats from His Early Reliance on Political Web Sites and Blogs
Reilly, Adam, Nieman Reports
For me, the entry into covering the presidential primaries was abrupt, and the learning curve was a steep one. While some of the candidates were still declaring their intent to run, I was working as a municipal reporter at a small Boston-area daily newspaper. But during the late summer, I switched jobs and now report on politics--local, state and national--at the Boston Phoenix, an alternative weekly with a reputation for strong political content.
With New Hampshire so close to us and the Democratic National Convention in Boston, the primary races have become a major focus of my reporting. To help me make the transition from covering zoning disputes and school board meetings to presidential politics, I turned to the vast array of Web resources--but lately I've become increasingly ambivalent about my reliance on them.
A Web Obsession Develops
Actually, my embrace of these Web resources of political reporting began a bit earlier. In fact, these sites helped me to get my job. While I had been reasonably informed by what I'd heard and read in the traditional print and broadcast media, I wasn't a compulsive consumer of political news. But during the interview process, whenever I had a spare moment, I'd head to the Internet to delve deeper into the national political scene and generate story ideas. Before long, sites like Salon and Slate assumed a prominent place in my daily news-consumption routine.
Shortly after I got to the Phoenix, the balance between traditional and Web-based media shifted decisively. A politically savvy friend in Washington, D.C. sent me a list of must-read political Web sites. I put aside some slight moral pangs and started to use my friend's password to read the subscription-only Web publication, The Hotline, the National Journal's mid-morning omnibus of daily political news. Worried I might miss something important, I made sure to read the Journal's shorter morning and afternoon Web briefings. I also became a compulsive reader of ABC News's The Note, another Internet catchall for things political. Between reading that site's commentary and using its many links to access stories by writers at newspapers throughout the country, The Note, alone, often took up huge chunks of my time each morning.
My growing obsession didn't stop there. Each day, it seemed, I learned of another must-read Weblog, a place I could go and find new information along with sharply opinionated analysis. These blogs were hard to keep track of, but they all seemed important, so I made a point of visiting sites like the Daily Kos, Talking Points Memo, and Andrew Sullivan.com whenever possible. Online sites of influential magazines like The New Republic, The Washington Monthly, The Weekly Standard, and National Review were also regular destinations: First I targeted their free content, then schmoozed my way into passwords that allowed me to access subscriber-only material. Reading the magazines at the library would probably have been easier, but then I might have missed a vital bit of Web-only content that I felt I couldn't afford to not read.
As I look back, this campaign of mine to catalog and visit every worthwhile political Web site--a campaign that was bound to fail--served a valuable purpose. It tossed me headlong into an unfamiliar world where I became saturated with massive amounts of information and forced to master a new vocabulary. Ten years ago, such an immersion would have left me surrounded by stacks of newspapers, with a sore finger from clicking across the spectrum of TV news shows and political roundtables and with a radio dial worn down by my effort to heat more coverage. While those news sources are still available, heading to the Internet made this journey one I could accomplish at my desk and on my computer. And I was able to achieve my goal of learning as much as I could as fast as I could more quickly.
That's the good news.
The Obsession Becomes a Liability
The bad news is that at some point--and I don't know exactly when--my gung ho approach became a liability. …