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February 25, 2013

Covering Obama: Is this trip worth it?

WASHINGTON — No one ever said covering the most powerful man in the world would be cheap. But given how the White House has treated the traveling press lately, some journalists are wondering whether covering President Barack Obama on the road is worth the enormous investment.

News organizations whose reporters hitched a ride on Air Force One to cover President Obama's trip to Florida over the Presidents' Day weekend will pay about $3,500 for the three-day journey once all the bills — air and ground transportation, hotels and food — are counted up.

The money didn't buy much, however. The White House Correspondents' Association lodged a formal protest with White House officials last week after reporters were barred from seeing any part of Obama's activities, including a round of golf with Tiger Woods. Obama spoke with reporters on the trip home, but only on an off-the-record basis, meaning none of what he said could be reported.

With media outlets under increasing financial pressure, some question whether routine presidential trips provide much bang for the buck — or rather, millions of bucks, which is what it costs some news outlets to keep up with Obama throughout the year.

The steep cost of following the president here and there has led many news organizations to cut back their travel. Among those that have dropped regular reporting trips: Time magazine, whose former White House correspondent, Jay Carney, now serves as Obama's press secretary.

Some reporters suggest that traveling with the president has a limited upside, anyway. For one thing, many reporters don't get much more than a glimpse of the president during his trips. They have to rely on the same "pool" reports that journalists back home receive at the same time that they do. (Pool reports are dispatches to the press corps from reporters designated to attend events that can accommodate only a limited number.) Under strictly observed rules, only the wire services can break news ahead of the distribution of the pool report to everyone else. The wire services enjoy this privilege because they cover the president on every trip.

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