Here's an article that is, and should be, provoking some thought among Ottawa reporters mulling the possibility of an imminent election campaign.
It's a New York Times piece on the dwindling numbers of reporters aboard the campaign planes in the U.S. presidential race. Cost is a big factor - reportedly $2,000 a day (yes, a day) to cover a recent trip by Barack Obama.
That cost may seem staggering, but it's not out of whack with Canadian reporters' costs in federal elections. During the 2005-06 campaign, which lasted seven weeks, the political parties billed media organizations around $9,000 per reporter, per week. And that didn't include hotel costs. So divide that billing up by seven, add hotels and overtime costs, and you're looking at a figure approaching $1,500 a day, if not higher. Is it any wonder why news organizations may be thinking twice? In the last election campaign, Sun columnist Greg Weston and CanWest columnist Don Martin rebelled against the costs by outfitting themselves in a Hummer and shadowing the Conservative tour as it made its way around Ontario.
Above and beyond the question of the cost - and the real question of whether reporters are actually subsidizing the expenses of the leaders' tours - there's also the issue of value for money. All the leaders' tours increasingly have operated on the same kind of rhythm: a press release of some policy announcement in the morning, all-day travelling, and a rah-rah rally at night. Almost no interaction with the leaders, and even the aides keep themselves closeted away a large part of the time. That means often that the "news" that print reporters are getting on these punishingly expensive tours is actually nearly a day old when they can get a chance to file to the newsroom and the story is turned into a piece for the morning paper. Worse, that same piece of news has been on Newsworld and Newsnet every hour.
All this to say, the NYT article is making a lot of us revisit conversations about how to cover leaders' tours without bankrupting our bosses, while providing news or analysis of some significance. That conversation is clearly also well under way in the U.S.