I’m clinging white-knuckled to the lifeboat that is original journalism and storytelling because 1) I know no other thing and addictions don’t quit easy 2) a world without original storytelling, analysis and journalism — i.e. truth — isn’t one I want to be a part of and 3) because it’s sort of invigorating to jump into a dark deep end, as the media waters become choppier.
In other words, in the words of the wise investigative reporter and American University professor Chuck Lewis, we can’t let the bastards win. In the end, this is about seeing clearly enough to create a better world with storytelling and analysis that is clear-eyed and non-partisan so that we can diagnose the problems, find solutions and act. It’s also about keeping focused on people rather than political trends that sometimes mask instead of clarify what’s happening on the ground.
Every week (or so), you’ll get a sense of he bigger picture that helps show what we should be focused on as the 2020 presidential primary gets rolling. Each edition will also have coverage of what I’ve called The Gonzo Primary. While it’s an imperfect title, I’m looking to get at how presidential primary coverage in 2020 can be changed for the better.
How is it free? I’m a freelance journalist and, obviously, this is one of many things that I do. But I want to build momentum and figure out what this thing is about before heading to a paid edition — which I hope, at some point, can fund this kind of truth-seeking (and allow me to pay others).
Plus, there are bigger things than money at play. At a moment when we are being pulled apart at the seams as a society, this needs to be a grassroots movement of people seeking the kind of truth that can help our democratic experiment continue. Yes, truth and judging things for what they are has that kind of power, and I hope you’ll become a part of it.
The Democratic primary in 2020 is the place to start.
Here are a few of my initial thoughts on organizing principles about what matters in reporting on politics and primaries that The Gonzo Primary will explore:
Involve YOU - readers/audience. Tell us what you want. Tell us the questions you have and the issues you want covered.
Find out about life on the ground in states where primaries are occurring. What’s happening in these communities? As the candidates smile for the cameras what’s happening behind closed doors and in City Hall? Most importantly, what is happening in the lives of dispossessed Americans of all stripes? The homeless men sleeping outside the campaign rally, the guys at the bar who don’t want any part of any candidate or campaign, anyone and everyone who considers themselves forgotten — what do they think, and why isn’t anyone listening?
Explore candidates’ record on things these communities care about. Do they even have one? If they don’t what policies are they proposing to help those communities? Policies, not personalities, should drive our political choices but often don’t.
Dive into data to demystify campaigns and issues. This is something traditional media often does well but not until election night. What investments do candidates hold? What legislation have they worked on? Who is financing their campaigns? No voter can make an informed decision without knowing as much as possible about these three issues.
In a this-makes-me-feel-old way, I have covered presidential primaries in some way every year since 2008. In ‘08 I was in Charlottesville, Virginia, at The Daily Progress and drew the Obama rally assignment when people were flipping their shit over him it was clear something different was happening. In ‘12, I was at the Washington Post and contributed from my hinterlands bureau; most memorably, for me, helping to take the pulse of the nation on July 4 with a team of reporters. In ‘16, I trailed Hillary Clinton in South Carolina, doing some typical campaign reporting along the insider-y themes that her campaign had struggled there last time and asking about whether she would she make it again.
Politics offers us a rare chance to check the barometer in understanding the world as it is, the good, the bad and the ugly. Presidential races offer us both a window and a mirror on American life and the ways in which society is working and, of course, the ways in which it’s not.
The election is going to get ugly and it already feels all consuming. But it is a vital time to take stock and it is as consequential as the hype will portray it. Instead of focusing on core issues and problems, we will all become obsessed with the who’s up and who’s down that the national media narrative will drive.
The Gonzo Primary won’t do it all, but we’ll identify a mode and a method, try things, keep it loose and do journalism and analysis that matters to the forgotten every day voter.
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