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Sam Zell needs to know about this. Veteran political observer Stump Connolly covered the latest presidential campaign for 21 months and spent less than $4,000. "Thank God for the buffets in the press room," says Stump.
If Stump were a fly-by-nighter that would be one thing. But he's been in the game as long as those fancy-pants Tribune Company pundits with the big salaries Zell's methodically dumping. Stump's first convention was the Democrats in Chicago in 1968, though sticklers won't count it, since Stump -- or at least his alter ego, Scott Jacobs -- was there as a protester. But Jacobs wrote up TV coverage of the '72 conventions for the Milwaukee Sentinel, and in 1992, after leaving newspapers for video, he collaborated with Chicago's Tom Weinberg on documenting the Democratic convention for PBS. By 2004 Jacobs, writing as Stump Connolly for theweekbehind.com, was a fixture on the campaign trail. Theweekbehind.com began as a house organ for IPA, an editing house Jacobs founded in the 80s and sold in 2000. It continues as a repository of reporting and commentary by Jacobs and friends who have written things close to their hearts that they don't know what else to do with. "It's an on-line Reader," he says, and I might agree except that this is the on-line Reader.
"I started to do Stump as a blog," says Jacobs, "and I realized I can't write a story a day and I didn't want to put up what I woke up thinking this morning, so I accepted the fact that once a week I'll try to write a political story and I'll try to do some actual reporting and I'll see what's going on, and I'll do it like an actual reporter -- an ink-stained wretch."
As actual reporters are fast becoming luxuries newspapers cannot afford, I ask Jacobs how he kept expenses so low.
"You start out by not making a salary. That's a big one."
The biggest, I'd say. From it, all the other savings necessarily follow.
"I stayed with friends." And when he couldn't, it was Motel 6 all the way.
Also -- "I scrounged tickets to both conventions from friends."
He confides, "You can get press credentials if you're reasonable about asking. The Secret Service is the toughest part. Once the campaign winds up in the hands of the Secret Service it becomes a very difficult process covering anything. Getting into an event with press credentials becomes tougher, if you want to be inside. But you don't necessarily have to -- if you're going for the milieu. In the fall I did stories about the organizations. I went to Ohio to look at the ground game, and stayed away from the candidates. You can't get on the press plane unless you're willing to spend $2,000 a day, or maybe $4,000."
At any rate, Jacobs has assembled Stump's campaign pieces into a book, The Long Slog, available through amazon.com. It's savvy, conversational, and milieu-skewed, and if you like it the good news is that this is only part one, the campaign leading up to the conventions. There's more to come. If you hate it, the good news is that it's over sooner than you think it will be.