The boys (and girls) on the bus in the 2008 Presidential campaign could fit into a much smaller vehicle, according to The New York Times: Far fewer news organizations are staffing the campaign this year, largely because of cutbacks in newsroom budgets.
This isn't a bad thing. There's not a lot of original reporting in pack journalism of this type, and most newspapers are better served running AP coverage of the campaign (readers don't notice, really they don't) than spending the $2,000-plus a day to fly somebody around on Barack Obama's campaign plane. At a time when papers need to be much smarter about how they use their dwindling resources to serve readers, that's just good management. There's really no reason for regional newspapers to be staffing national campaigns, unless there's a distinct local angle. The money is better spent elsewhere. (Does Sam Zell realize that both the Los Angeles Times and Chicago Tribune are staffing the campaigns? Just asking.)
But there's another angle to these sorts of cutbacks that represents a cruel fact of newsroom life: There are far fewer plum jobs for reporters to aspire to these days. And there goes one of the great perks of journalism.
A decade or two ago, young reporters at many papers could hope they'd work their way up the ladder to a Presidential campaign, or the White House beat, or a domestic or foreign bureau assignment. Never mind that some of these jobs were actually fairly crappy—they nonetheless reeked of prestige, and made it worth climbing the newsroom ladder if you didn't want to go into management.
But no more. At most papers, there's a hard ceiling on this sort of advancement. Bureaus, especially overseas, are a thing of the past. Washington bureaus have been (generally) slashed to the bone. Getting a ride on the Presidential campaign bus? Forget it. Heck, even the ability to dream up a great out-of-town reporting assignment and live off the newspaper's expense account for a few days (ah, the old expense-account tales) is severely limited these days. And none of these prizes is ever coming back.
This could have significant impact, over time, on recruiting and keeping good young reporters. Without these traditional goals, many may feel trapped and leave the profession. Newspaper managements need to be creative about finding some sort of consolation prize: With the much-overdue shift to emphasis on local coverage, compensation and other rewards need to be redirected at key local beats, to make them worth aspiring to. But the idea of striving for a gig in Washington, or overseas, or in a foreign bureau, is now about as antiquated as portable typewriters and the telexes that traveling reporters once used to file their copy. R.I.P.