Catalina Camia, the White House and politics editor for USA Today, directed coverage of the presidential campaign last year after joining the newspaper in 2005. The former reporter has also covered Washington and politics for The Dallas Morning News, and Congressional Quarterly. She spoke with PRWeek about the coordination of Web and print news, and why there is a heightened focus on President Barack Obama.
PRWeek: In the past year, how has USA Today's political coverage changed?
Catalina Camia: There's certainly been more emphasis on our Web site coverage. During the presidential campaign, we featured several online interactive[s], such as our candidate match game, which helped readers understand where [then-Sen.] Barack Obama and [Sen.] John McCain (R-AZ) stood on the issues, as well as our poll tracker, which gave readers a polling snapshot of key states. Any time there is a change in administration at the White House, you'll see heightened interest in news coverage. That's certainly the case with USA Today, as well as other news organizations. Now, for us, in particular, since we are not a paper of record like The New York Times, we focus more on unique enterprise and stories that explain trends, hold candidates and elected officials accountable, and really look for sharp angles on news of the day
PRWeek: So, with the increased presence on the Web, how has your role as an editor changed?
Camia: We use the Web for velocity, and we have a new blog called The Oval, which takes a look at the Obama presidency. I spend a lot of time coordinating coverage…on top of what I do with the newspaper, coordinating graphics and photos and working with reporters to talk out their stories and not only plan for that day's coverage but to make sure that we have enterprise the week after…I also spend a good amount of time trying to coach the reporters and help them develop story ideas and to think out different sources but, really, the big change for me is more coordination, not just within USA Today, the newspaper, but with the online folks.
PRWeek: How do you prefer to work with PR professionals and has your interaction changed, either increased or decreased, in recent years?
Camia: I probably don't talk as much with PR professionals as I did when I was a reporter because when I get phone pitches or e-mail pitches, I will try to make sure that pitch goes to the right reporter or editor. I find a lot of times that I'm the first person that a PR professional will try to go to because the issues of politics and the White House and the federal government are so broad, but the way we've got beats divided here at USA Today…sometimes it's easier…to say to somebody, “That's better addressed to someone at our nation desk or on our world desk.” Unfortunately, sometimes, because I'm really busy, as all journalists are, I have to be blunt and say, “You know these are just not stories that we cover, or that we [don't] have the resources to pursue this particular angle.”
PRWeek: Going back to the biggest changes for the section, what would you say have been the biggest drivers of change?
Camia: There's no question that there's heightened interest in the Obama presidency, and that would be true of whoever won the election in November. As I said before, any time there's a change in government, there is an increase in interest. A new administration coupled with the worst fiscal crisis we've seen since the Depression makes for really great opportunities, as well as challenges, for Washington-based journalists. The Internet has also posed us a challenge, simply because information is available anywhere. But, newspaper Web sites along with their print editions still can offer more depth and analysis and added value than, say, a niche Web site or a single issue Web site.
PRWeek: From where you're sitting at USA Today, what do you think will be the top political stories this year?
Camia: Certainly there is a lot of interest in how President Obama transitions from being a candidate to being a president who actually has to govern. That's a huge storyline. So, anything he does in response to the economy, his plans for healthcare, education, and energy, and how that translates to what he promised on the campaign trail, that's huge. We're going to have to hold him accountable for what he said on the campaign trail and what he does now. One thing that we need to be mindful of is: is he going to govern in a bi-partisan fashion, as he promised during the campaign? And, then the flip side of that is that we need to pay attention to the Republication Party as it tries to rebuild itself after the 2008 elections. Losing the White House, losing so many seats in Congress, and even at the state level, it really puts a focus on the Republican Party, in terms of what will its message be, who will its leaders be?