#TBT: New Hampshire primary edition

Just when it seemed we’d have to start numbering super Tuesdays like super bowls, the Republican primary is all but over and, although Bernie Sanders will continue his campaign, the Democrats’ delegate math is against him.

I’m still mulling what the outcome of the GOP race says about the state of political journalism and wondering if the general election will go much beyond gender politics. But it seems like a good time to inventory my own coverage of the 2016 primary, which began last April when Jeb Bush brought a couple of key lime pies to Concord:

This was my fourth primary as a journalist and my first since leaving a full-time newsroom gig. That meant I experienced 2016 partly  as a freelancer and partly through the eyes of my journalism students. (About those students: I’m utterly biased, but didn’t they do some fantastic work when the Democratic debate came to UNH in February?)

The journalism landscape changed a lot between 2012 and 2016. I bumped into reporters from the New York Times and CNN, but there were just as many journalists working for BuzzFeed, Vox, Vice and other digital startups.

Meerkat and Periscope made live video a huge part of campaign coverage, allowing the Union Leader to pretty much break the internet with this and giving one of my classes a chance to watch – and question – Hillary Clinton during a Concord Monitor editorial board interview last fall. Wifi was more ubiquitous, even in rural areas, making this primary feel more intense, more scripted, more public.

Instagram has been around since 2010, but this was the first national campaign where it was standard fare. For me, Instagram became an experiment in short-form storytelling, a way to sketch the voices and scenes that give the campaign trail its texture. Here’s one example from that Bush event last April:

Another favorite taken in Bedford the weekend before the primary:

And here’s one from my neighborhood polling station on voting day:

 

I wrote mostly for the Boston Globe, filing stories about candidate draft movements, political artifacts and campaign technology in 2008 versus 2016. I also met some wonderful new Americans preparing to vote in their very first primary and delved into the mysterious origins of the GOP. I also had bylines in Women’s e-News and the Concord Monitor. And, on primary day, I talked about the state of the political news media on New Hampshire Public Radio.

My best 2016 memory, though, is playing political tourist with my cousin Drew, a government major at UT-Austin. He flew into Manchester the weekend before the primary, and we spent the next few days crisscrossing the state in search of would-be presidents. We saw Bush and Rubio at elementary schools in Concord and Bedford, met Kasich at the Puritan Backroom and watched Cruz address a packed town hall in Peterborough.

In downtown Manchester, we saw campaign finance reformers, wandering journalists and piles of Trump signs ready for a rally and this guy:

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(Political) origin story

In my latest piece for The Boston Globe​, I revisit a longstanding dispute about the origins of the Republican Party…. and uncover a bit of new information about a key organizational meeting that may (or may not) have taken place in Exeter, New Hampshire more than 150 years ago. Read the whole story here.

Instagram on the campaign trail

At first, I loved Instagram for the way it forced me to find photos in my everyday life and to consider new applications for visual storytelling. Now, I’m loving it even more as users experiment with long captions or full-fledged “instaessays.”

I’ve done a couple of instaessays – one about New Hampshire’s Legislature and one about chance encounters with presidential candidates – but I hadn’t had an opportunity to try journalistic captions. That changed last night when I covered Jeb Bush’s visit to Concord. Here are the results:

Meerkat for President!

Here’s where I confess that I first thought Meerkat was somehow related to Mammal March Madness*. It’s not. It’s an app that makes streaming video almost as simple as tapping out a tweet, and yesterday it collided with the world of political journalism. Hard.

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A screen grab from yesterday’s live stream of Trump’s interview with the UL.

The Union Leader has long been a force in Republican politics, something that’s especially apparent during the early months of New Hampshire’s first-in-the-nation primary. Potential candidates stop by the Manchester newsroom for meetings with the UL’s editorial board – the first step towards winning the paper’s coveted endorsement.

Yesterday, that potential candidate was Donald Trump. And the editorial board decided to use Meerkat to live stream the whole thing. I watched for a few minutes, and it looked like at least 50 other people did, too. It wasn’t long before other local news organizations had opened accounts of their own. NECN streamed one of Trump’s campaign stops later in the day, and my iPhone buzzed all night with alerts that other political journalists had opened accounts on the app.

The technology is pretty cool and becoming more common. Meerkat was a huge hit at SxSW, and Twitter recently acquired similar software. There’s also an app called Stre.am that’s gaining traction, although I don’t know much about how it works.

If you want to try it yourself, remember that this is video so all related tips apply: Use an external mic to get the best sound, avoid vertical frames and, as one local reporter suggested to me on Facebook, consider getting a tripod if you’ll be streaming for long periods of time.

I suspect Meerkat and similar tools will become standard fare on the campaign trail – a new window into real-time politicking and a reminder of how fast the practice of journalism is changing.

*If you don’t know about Mammal March Madness, stop reading this blog immediately and click here for deets.

All politics is local (journalism)

One of the many political opinions on display lately. Photo/Meg Heckman
One of the many political opinions on display lately. Photo/Meg Heckman

It’s been a decade since the bitter cold winter when I started covering politics. Plenty of Democrats wanted a chance to unseat President George W. Bush, so New Hampshire was bustling with candidates. It was a rare stump speech that  didn’t reference 9/11, and most voters I met knew at least one person stationed in Iraq or Afghanistan. Everyone who turned out to hear the potential challengers or, later, the president himself believed that this election would somehow make things better.

Sure, politics has plenty of problems. There’s too much money. Too much celebrity. Too much disconnect between the loud debates and the everyday lives of most Americans. But the political process is also beautiful. A campaign is a microcosm of a community: coalitions, networks, passions that bring people together and drive them apart. In the months before an election, voters become more public with their anger, their fears, their hopes. They display their opinions on lawns, on car bumpers and with pins on their lapels. Collectively, we consider who we are to ourselves and who we want to be in the eyes of the world.

And, as a journalist on the campaign trail, it was my job to find them at their coffee shops and their town halls, flip open my notebook and listen.

When I decided on the career shift that would eventually land me a teaching job at UNH, I assumed I was done covering politics. I was wrong. Which is awesome. Because I really missed it.

Since early June I’ve been filing dispatches from New Hampshire for the Boston Globe’s new political section, a visually stunning effort called Capital that appears Fridays in print and throughout the week online. (Here’s Poynter’s take on the project, and a look at the section’s design philosophy.) Capital was great when it launched, and it’s only gotten better since then.

As for my own contributions, I’ve written about the new proprietor of an old political landmark, the GOP’s quest for a perfect site for the 2016 Republican National Convention and Bob Smith’s return to politics after a 12 year hiatus.

Tonight, I’m heading out to work on another piece, and I’m looking forward to hearing what stories New Hampshire’s voters have to tell.

Rethinking Storify

A few years ago, I received an invitation to beta test Storify. I still don’t know why I was chosen, but it probably had something to do with my job as web editor at a paper known for covering New Hampshire’s first-in-the-nation primary. It wasn’t long before Storify projects became mainstays on our political blog.

Storify makes it easy to capture a cross section of community sentiment or cover a major event in real time. (It’s also fantastic for reporting bits of social media culture, like the birth of the New Hampshire primary’s hashtag.)

One of the coolest parts of experimenting with a new tool is seeing how other journalists use it to tell the stories that are important to them. I never thought of maintaing a Storify that grows over the course of many months, but that’s exactly what Josh Stearns has been doing since the fall of 2011. Stearns, a media reform advocate with Free Press, has used Storify to track the arrests of journalists covering Occupy protests. (See how the story’s introduction fosters conversation by including ways to pass along tips? Brilliant!)

Last week, Stearns spoke via Google Hangout to one of my classes at Northeastern University. He had some other ideas for using Storify that go beyond basic curation: The slideshow tool, he said, is good for photo galleries. And an unpublished story can serve as a sort of social media notebook because Storify archives tweets even after they’ve been deleted from Twitter.

Stearns also talked about taking a “slow-news approach” to social media journalism. That means carefully selecting the best story elements and using verification techniques to make sure the information is accurate.