News Orgs Balk At Romney Campaign Deciding Press Pool Membership

Posted: 05/ 2/2012 9:18 pm

NEW YORK -- News organizations pushed back Wednesday after Mitt Romney's campaign decided the website BuzzFeed should be excluded from a rotating press pool, a group in which one member covers an event and produces a report shared among others in the pool.

BuzzFeed editor-in-chief Ben Smith tweeted Wednesday morning that "the Romney campaign is attempting to exclude BuzzFeed from the media pool" and said he "hoped other news organizations won't stand for that."

Some reporters and editors expressed concerns that the Republican's presidential campaign, rather than news organizations, would determine who joins the press pool. Traditionally, journalists in the pool decide who among them will produce reports they all share. The White House Correspondents Association, for example, decides who to admit and makes a rotating schedule of reporters to cover the president each day. All members of the association share the reports. The White House does not decide who covers the president as part of the rotating pool.

So far, the Romney traveling press corps hasn't had a formal, rotating pool system, instead sharing coverage of events on a situational basis, such as if the candidate mets with supporters in an area too small for a crush of reporters.

But now that Romney is the presumptive nominee, the press corps will begin pooling fundraisers in public spaces, like Wednesday's night's event at a Pentagon City hotel. Eventually, there will likely be three pool reporters -- national print-web, TV networks and wire services -- following the candidate wherever he goes each day, similar to how White House pool reporters trail the president everywhere, from a bill signing to the golf course.

Last week, the Romney campaign asked reporters who travel regularly to assemble a pool, according to reporters. There are five national print organizations that regularly travel with the campaign -- The New York Times, the Washington Post, Politico, the Los Angeles Times, and the Wall Street Journal -- so they'd clearly be in the pool. Reporters then also decided to extend an invitation to a few other news organizations who also travel with the campaign, albeit less frequently. That group includes BuzzFeed, Yahoo! News, the Boston Globe, and The Huffington Post.

The wire services will have their own pool reporter at Wednesday night's event, but the Romney campaign decided not to have a slot solely for the TV networks, another point of contention within the traveling press corps.

"We have opened up our finance events for one wire and one print pool reporter to cover with the reports accessible to other media," Andrea Saul, a Romney spokeswoman, told The Huffington Post. "We do not have a separate blogger pool report."

Saul's comment suggests the campaign may consider BuzzFeed a blog and, for that reason, not eligible to be in the print pool. While BuzzFeed reporters write exclusively online, so do others in the "print" pool, such as The Huffington Post and Yahoo! News. Also, newspaper reporters routinely file dispatches from the trail that only appear online.

"We are part of the pool, and are looking forward to receiving tonight's pool report and taking our turn in the rotation," Smith said in an email to The Huffington Post. "In this case, as traditionally, campaigns do not get to determine which reporters cover them and how press pools are constituted."

BuzzFeed, best known for viral videos and posts that gain traction in social media, began covering politics earlier this year with the hiring of Smith and several political reporters.

Other editors who oversee political coverage echoed Smith's position.

"Our point is pretty straightforward: The news outlets in the pool decide who is in the pool -- not the campaign," said Ryan Grim, Washington bureau chief of The Huffington Post.

News organizations discussed Wednesday about formally addressing the issue with the Romney campaign, considering that it's a commonly shared belief that news outlets, not the campaign, should make decisions about the pool.

"It concerns me that the Romney campaign would try to exclude any news organization from the pool," New York Times political editor Richard Stevenson said in an email to The Huffington Post.

"There's an important principle here, which is that a campaign doesn't get to decide who covers it," Stevenson continued. "That's a point that we and others will no doubt raise with the Romney folks."

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