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New Campaign Website Offers Journalists a Mirror and Voters a Backstage Pass

By Caroline Ladhani

Campaign news junkies can get a backstage peek at election coverage on a new Columbia Web site called "The Campaign Desk," operated by the Columbia Journalism Review (CJR). The site is a daily report card for journalists covering the 2004 campaign trail and monitors news reporting, political commentary and analysis for thoroughness, accuracy and fairness. Though the target audience is reporters, anyone can access the site and track the Web staff's daily criticism or praise of favorite news sources.

For the media, self-examination of election coverage usually comes after the election is over, "and then we resolve to do a better job next time," said Journalism School Dean Nicholas Lemann in a message on The Campaign Desk Web site.

"But now we have a new tool," he writes. "In 2004, the Web makes it possible to analyze and criticize press coverage in real time, so that suggestions for improved coverage might actually be heeded, and incorporated into campaign coverage, while the campaign is still under way."

The Campaign Desk's managing editor, Steve Lovelady, a former managing editor of the Philadelphia Inquirer, is pleased with initial responses from visitors to the site. "We're getting many dozens of e-mails, ranging from 'At last!' to 'Hallelujah!' to 'I love it!' to 'Thank you so much!' " Lovelady said.

"I was surprised that so much of the initial reaction came not from journalists or political junkies, but from the broad, reading public. They are flocking to the site. Frankly, that mix of enthusiasm for campaigndesk.org, spiced with jubilation at its debut, caught me off guard. But I find it gratifying, as do our writers toiling away here in the boiler room," Lovelady continued.

Mike Hoyt, executive editor of CJR, expressed hope that the site will continue to extend beyond the journalist audience.

"While our primary audience is the working political press, we hope the site, like Columbia Journalism Review itself, reaches well beyond that group, to anyone with a deep interest in electoral politics and the media's part in it," said Hoyt.

Lemann also expressed hope that the site will attract a broad and loyal audience.

"Please don't resist the temptation to become addicted to the site, as it grows and the presidential campaign gathers force," he writes on the Web site. "We think campaigndesk.org has the potential to add a dimension not just to press criticism, but to campaign coverage and even to American politics."

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Published: Jan 27, 2004
Last modified: Apr 26, 2004

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