Research the Candidate
Before you head to the rally, learn as much as you can about the candidate. Know where he (or she) stands on the issues, and get a feel for what he generally says on the stump.
Hurry Up – And Wait
The first thing you discover when covering a political campaign is that candidates are always – always – running late. So while the rally you’re covering is bound to start anywhere from 45 minutes to more than an hour late, it’s still worth getting there on time to begin your reporting.
Take Great Notes
I covered this here, but it’s worth repeating.
Avoid The Press Section – Stay With the Crowd
Political rallies typically have a special section set aside for the press, but the only thing you’ll hear there is a bunch of reporters talking. Get into the crowd and interview the locals who have come out to see the candidate. Their quotes – and their reaction to the candidate - will be a big part of your story.
Once the candidate arrives, listen for whether she deviates from her usual stump speech. Is she recycling the same old lines she’s said before, or is she saying something new, and if so, why? Is she responding to something her opponent has said, or is she altering her message because of something the polls are showing?
Not all political rallies offer reporters the chance to ask questions, but if yours does, take it. Ask as many questions as you can, and make them challenging.
Find Your Lede
The lede of a political rally story will usually focus on one of two things:
a) what the candidate says at the rally
b) how the crowd responds to the candidate
If the candidate says something new and provocative, that’s probably going to be your lede.
Gov. James Jones surprised local residents at a campaign rally yesterday when he announced he might have to raise income taxes in order to balance the state’s budget.
But if the candidate basically recycles his usual campaign speech, then your lede might focus on the crowd’s reaction.
Local residents attending a campaign rally for Gov. James Jones said they didn’t believe his promise to not raise taxes, given the state’s growing budget deficit.
Political campaigns are long (and getting longer all the time), so you can’t cover an individual political rally in a vacuum. In your story include plenty of background about the candidate - where they stand on the issues, how they’re doing in the polls, and whether their message has remained consistent or has changed over time. This will provide the context your readers need for understanding what’s happening with the candidate and the campaign. (Much of this information can be written ahead of time in the form of background copy.)
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