When it comes to covering Hillary Rodham Clinton, some campaign reporters are feeling less equal than others.
Major news organizations have established their own press pool to cover the leading Democratic candidate, an arrangement that gives them premium access to Clinton as she campaigns in Iowa, New Hampshire and elsewhere.
The only problem: The pool has left news organizations that aren’t part of the reporting consortium on the sidelines, effectively turning them into second-class journalists in the hunt for Clinton info.
Pool reports are journalism’s way of managing journalism’s perpetual mob scenes. Rather than having a jostling crowd of reporters all chasing the same newsmaker into tight quarters, a lone reporter handles the job, sharing whatever he or she learns with colleagues via a series of e-mails.
The White House press corps has employed such a system for decades to cover the president. Presidential pool reports are shared widely, and in real time, not only among news organizations but among congressional offices, executive branch agencies and hundreds of other interested parties.
That’s not how the Clinton pool works, however.
With the Clinton campaign’s ascent, some 14 news organizations — including the New York Times, Politico, BuzzFeed and The Washington Post — formed a press pool in May. Each member is expected to supply a reporter to cover Clinton on a rotating basis when an event — say, a diner stop in Iowa — can accommodate only a small group. The news organizations regularly travel to report on Clinton. (Clinton campaign officials have no control over the pool’s members or what the pool reports.)
But the pool reports are being shared only among pool members through a special-access Google Group. Reporters from news organizations that are not in the traveling pool can get access only on a delayed basis, usually at the end of the day. That’s a veritable lifetime to wait in an age when news is constant and instantaneous.
And that hurts: “My feeling is that some people have established the rules and that we haven’t been part of the discussion,” said Laura Haim, a U.S.-based reporter for a French TV network, Canal Plus’ i-Tele. “I went to Iowa to cover [Clinton’s] first event. I only saw her van. I never saw her. I was not the only one. The level of frustration was amazing. . . . I am fighting for equality and access for all.”
The architects of the new system, who agreed to speak only on background, said its rationale is simple: Pool members have agreed to bear heavy travel costs to cover Clinton and thus should have first crack at information about her. Others are welcome to join the pool, they say — “the more the merrier,” as one put it — but only if they’re willing to shoulder their share of campaign-coverage costs.
Otherwise, they can wait until the end of the day.
The pool members say they have made no distinction between domestic and international press; in fact, two of the founding members, the Guardian and Daily Mail, are British-based, and a third, Agence France-Presse (AFP), is based in Paris.
But the nature of the arrangement troubles some.
“I understand why some reporters want the reports to be only available to those who are participating in the rotation,” said Anita Kumar, a White House and Clinton campaign reporter for McClatchy Newspapers, which is part of the pool covering Clinton. “I just think in this day and age, it’s hard to justify restricting the information, both because the precedent has been set with White House pool reports . . . and because shrinking budgets and newsrooms need to translate to more sharing of information, not less.”
The pool members are scheduled to meet Monday morning at the Los Angeles Times/Tribune Washington offices to discuss organizational changes. It was not clear if there are any plans to change the way the reports are distributed, several people said.
Despite the often rote nature of pool summaries, the Clinton pool reports may have extra value because of her reluctance to engage directly with the press. Since many of Clinton’s early appearances have been in small venues, and because the media crush sometimes surpasses 70 or 80 people, the pool descriptions are often the only way to learn what transpired.
For example, during a midday stop in Independence, Iowa, last week, pool reporter Sam Frizell of Time magazine described Clinton’s encounters with local business owners. The interactions were routine but colorful: “ ‘Can I order some coffee?’ Clinton said with enthusiasm as she entered Em’s Coffee Co. [a shop on the main drag]. ‘I would love to get some coffee!’ The owner is Emilea Hillman, a young woman. . . . ‘I’m going to come back here, Em, what do you recommend?’ Clinton said, moving to the area behind the counter. ‘Perfect, I’m coming for it,’ she said ‘I needed a shot of espresso to keep going here!’ ”
In addition to their exclusion from the pool, reporters for foreign news organizations, such as Haim, complain that they have been shut out of Clinton’s “open press” events, in which all credentialed reporters are admitted. An ad hoc organization of international reporters intends to discuss the issue with campaign representatives, she said.
Clinton campaign spokesman Nick Merrill declined comment. But people close to the campaign said some open-press events quickly reached their limit and the campaign restricted access to local and national reporters.