For Rick Klein, the political director at ABC News, the coronavirus has meant abrupt changes for his team. “It felt in a lot of ways like we went from going 1,000 m.p.h. to zero very fast,” he said. Several “embeds,” the young reporters who travel with candidates for months, were reassigned to cover the virus, and Mr. Klein is leaning on local ABC affiliates to cover developments across the country.
There are still pressing matters for be covered: endorsements, fund-raising, advertising strategy and questions of election security when millions of voters are quarantining at home.
But for some reporters, abandoning the trail has posed an existential question: If campaign journalism isn’t traveling the country and closely observing candidates — well, what is it, exactly?
The author Timothy Crouse coined the term “Boys on the Bus” for his classic account of journalists covering the 1972 presidential race. But in an interview this week, he questioned if the entire enterprise was still necessary.
“I agree that a certain amount of information gathering depends on the serendipity and proximity that traveling with a campaign affords,” Mr. Crouse wrote in an email. “But a lot can still be done over the phone, can’t it? Is it possible that all the time spent on planes and buses is, in some ways, a waste?”
Ms. Cramer of BuzzFeed News — whose father, Richard Ben Cramer, wrote “What It Takes,” the definitive record of the 1988 race — saw it differently.
“This is a great opportunity to move away from horse-race coverage,” she said. “But we are missing a whole human element of campaign reporting right now. I don’t know what Joe Biden’s days are like — what that looks like, feels like, sounds like.”