Why campaign reporters are behind the curve

But the reality about horse-race journalism is far more embarrassing to the press and ought to be just as disappointing to the readers who consume our reporting. The truth is that we aren’t even that good at covering the horse race. If the 2012 campaign has been any indication, journalists remain unable to keep up with the machinations of modern campaigns, and things are likely only to get worse…

Over the last decade, almost entirely out of view, campaigns have modernized their techniques in such a way that nearly every member of the political press now lacks the specialized expertise to interpret what’s going on. Campaign professionals have developed a new conceptual framework for understanding what moves votes. It’s as if restaurant critics remained oblivious to a generation’s worth of new chefs’ tools and techniques and persisted in describing every dish that came out of the kitchen as either “grilled” or “broiled.”…

Within Mr. Romney’s campaign, however, his options were never seen as the binary choice presented by the “Will Mitt make a play for Iowa?” media parlor game. While journalists waited for physical manifestations of a Romney “ground game” to materialize, Mr. Romney deployed statistical models to track Iowa supporters and current vote counts for his rivals. It amounted to a largely invisible 21st-century upgrade to the traditional infrastructure of offices, phone banks and staff that most journalists visualized when they tossed around the term “organization.” Only six weeks before the caucus did Mr. Romney unveil the trappings of a traditional caucus campaign.