Previous posts have noted the shrinkage of mainstream journalism. The Internet has not really compensated for the loss of old-style journalists since so much Web coverage consists of commentary on information that originates with legacy sources.
That Beltway provincialism is now multiplied by the diminution of nonnational newspapers. The industry as a whole is about half as big as it was in 2007, with regional newspapers suffering acute cutbacks. In just the last year, five reporters with decades of experience have left the Richmond statehouse.
Plenty of reporters are imprisoned in cubes in Washington, but stretched news organizations aren’t eager to spend money on planes, rental cars and hotel rooms so that employees can bring back reports from the hustings. While the Internet has been a boon to modern reporting — All Known Thought One Click Away — it tends to pin journalists at their desks. I was on a panel with Gay Talese some time ago, and he said, “We are outside people,” meaning that we are supposed to leave our offices and hit the streets. But the always-on data stream is hypnotic, giving us the illusion of omniscience.
Data-driven news sites are all the rage, but what happens when newspapers no longer have the money to commission comprehensive, legitimate polls? The quants took a beating on this one, partly because journalists are left to read the same partisan surveys and spotty local reporting as Mr. Cantor’s campaign staff, whose own polling had him up by more than 30 points.
Hordes of blogs and news sites continue to chase the latest incremental scoop that will draw followers on Twitter, but a whole other channel of information is out there, including talk radio. Politico called it “Brat’s secret weapon,” to which, we might ask, secret to whom? About 50 million people in America listen to talk radio, much of it from conservative commentators like Mark Levin, Glenn Beck and Laura Ingraham.
They may represent a significant slice of Vox Populi, but they aren’t on heavy rotation in most newsrooms. Conservative talk radio blows a whistle that many journalists either can’t hear or don’t want to listen to. The same goes for Breitbart.com, which sent a reporter to Mr. Cantor’s district. He stayed there because he noticed something the polls did not — that Mr. Cantor was seldom seen during the race.