Papers Use Web to Cover ’06 Campaign From All Angles

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By: Joe Strupp

You mean you haven’t seen “The Caucus,” “Naked Politics,” or “Clout Street?” No, these aren’t new shows on television’s prime-time schedule, or a string of rock bands hitting the underground circuit. They happen to be the latest online political reporting tools for some of America’s most prestigious daily newspapers. As this midterm election in November shapes up to be one of the most crucial ever, newspapers are hitting the Web in ways they never have in the past, with new political blogs leading the way.

In just the past few months, the Los Angeles Times, The New York Times, The Miami Herald, and The Boston Globe, among others, have launched their first political blogs, and USA Today may be on the same track. Other papers including The Washington Post and The Wall Street Journal, which already have such offerings, say they are beefing those up.

Add to that increased Web site political services — from the Post’s database of incumbent congressional votes to the Los Angeles Times’ daily update of statewide campaign spending — and online reportage is virtually limitless. Several sites are even linking to TV spots run in states far away.

“The Web is the major change,” Phil Taubman, Washington bureau chief for the New York Times, told me in September when I asked about this year’s coverage. “We want it to be really current and really smart.” The paper unveiled its first ongoing blog for national politics, “The Caucus,” run by Kate Phillips, an 11-year Times veteran. It is part of a wide-ranging politics page that includes a New York-area political blog (“The Empire Zone”) and an interactive map with polling and other data on each congressional and gubernatorial race.

“It has an immediacy to it that is cool to see happen,” said Phillips, who draws blog items from nearly every state via Times regional and political reporters.

Three thousand miles away, the Los Angeles Times’ “Political Muscle” blog, which debuted on Sept. 11, has veteran politics scribe Robert Salladay focusing mostly on the Golden State. “We were constantly coming up with stories, and there was no room to put them in the paper,” Salladay said of the blog’s necessity. “There is now a lot of room and you can get breaking news out there.”

In addition, the Web site offers “The Viewing Room,” a compilation of campaign ads that allows visitors to comment on how effective or entertaining they are. Some of the ads are linked to YouTube.com.

“It brings a sense of immediacy,” said L.A. Times Interactive Executive Editor Joel Sappell. “To engage a whole new set of readers out there, [create] more of a dialogue.”

At the Boston Globe, which launched its “Political Intelligence” blog in May, editors have even linked to candidate endorsements — by other newspapers — and carried full transcripts of candidates’ debates. “It is another opportunity to communicate with our readers,” said Political Editor David Dahl.

As for the Miami Herald, its “Naked Politics” blog has only been up since July, but editors are already seeing benefits as both a newsbreaking outlet and a link to Web stories. Said State Editor Jay Ducassi: “There are a lot of things that are worth a note, three or four paragraphs — but not in the newspaper.”

Veteran Philadelphia Inquirer political scribe Dick Polman, who began blogging in February, agreed: “It allows me to be much more timely.”

The Chicago Tribune, which has seen success with its Washington-based blog, “The Swamp,” added another such page out of Chicago just weeks ago. “Clout Street” takes a slightly more formal approach than some blogs, but plays the same role as a mix of opinion and news in a quick format. “It’s a collection, a little bit of everything,” said Tribune Washington bureau chief Michael Tackett.

The Washington Post, which has been a groundbreaker in newspaper Web sites, already boasts a political blog, penned by Chris Cillizza. But that hasn’t stopped the paper from freshening its Web site’s political reporting with a new interactive map of congressional races, a database of congressional incumbent voting records, and its own campaign ad viewing bank.

“We have got to be aware that people are constantly clicking on to us,” National Political Editor John F. Harris said of the growing online coverage. “I increasingly want to get things out there.”

“The Wire” had been a weekly institution at The Wall Street Journal’s Washington bureau for decades when editors put the political notebook online as a daily politics blog in January. Since then, the feature has grown to the point that it now has a full-time writer and a companion Web column.

The Journal, which boasts the only paid online edition among the nation’s major dailies, is allowing the blog and its related coverage to be accessed online for free. “We wanted to reach an audience that might fall out of the lines of our regular online readers,” said D.C. Bureau Chief Gerald Seib. So, contrary to conventional wisdom, there appears to be one place money has no role in politics.

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