Most of the media that has trekked to Iowa over the past few days is doing what is known as “parachuting,” or swooping in to cover a story before moving on to the next.
Since Donald Trump’s shocking victory in 2016, it’s become a bit of a caricature for reporters to try to make sense of red state America by chatting up patrons at small-town diners.
By contrast, NBC News’ Vaughn Hillyard, a member of the network’s team of “road warriors,” has been dispatched to Iowa for much of the past year and has spent more days in the state than anywhere else over the past five years. He’ll be part of the network’s coverage on Monday, with Lester Holt anchoring from New York and Chuck Todd in Iowa as entrance polls and results come in, while Rachel Maddow, Brian Williams and Nicole Wallace headline MSNBC’s coverage along with Chris Matthews in Des Moines.
Rashida Jones, SVP Specials for NBC News and MSNBC, said via email that they have “spent a lot of time and resources to ensure we can tell a somewhat complex story effectively.”
She said that it was “not just about covering campaigns. It’s about talking to voters, and we’ve had reporters on the ground in Iowa for close to a year reporting on issues that matter to them and how that impacts their vote.”
All of the major news networks also have deployed political “embeds,” or reporters who follow each candidate and their every move. There also has been a considerable effort to try to capture the mood of the country this cycle. NBC News launched “Election Confessions,” in which voters share their anonymous opinions. CBS News last week launched a segment called “Every State Has a Story,” focusing on often overlooked issues on the minds of voters. CBS News’ caucus coverage will be anchored by Norah O’Donnell, with reporting from Major Garrett, Ed O’Keefe and Nikole Killion.
Deadline spoke to Hillyard as he was following Pete Buttigieg in Dubuque on Saturday, one of five Iowa stops the candidate was making that day.
DEADLINE: Are voters in Iowa even talking about impeachment?
HILLYARD: We’ve heard this conversation from the beginning of the Trump administration to where we find ourselves now. I think what myself and NBC reporting colleagues hear at these events is folks wanting to understand what the president did or did not do but also what Democrats are going to offer alternatively to whenever the Republicans were going to run as part of their presidential campaign.
And I think that what we have heard is folks — Democrats, Republicans and independents — coming to events talking about issues like flooding along the Missouri and Mississippi rivers, talking about concerns over commodity prices because of the U.S. trade wars, talking about issues about mental health.
DEADLINE: How is the experience wearing on you? It is day after day of mileage but also just going and listening to the same speech again and again.
HILLYARD: You immerse yourself to the point where I, you know, you feel a part of the community. I think that’s so much more powerful than just being a national reporter that drops in every once in a while, because by being here and reporting on people, you get to better understand what life is like, actually, you know in Dubuque, and in Des Moines. And when you become friends with farmers from Kanawha and from Perry, you know you’re in touch with these people frequently, and so you understand when they’re putting the seeds into the ground to plant, from the time that you know the corn comes up and through harvesting. I think the reporting experience is so much more rounded than just a political speech from a candidate. It’s about understanding why people are coming to see the candidates, and what they want to hear.
DEADLINE: What surprised you most about the Iowa voter?
HILLYARD: Just take over the count of what I’ve done over the last year here in Iowa, and that is having gone from the predominantly black neighborhoods of Waterloo to the old John Deere manufacturing neighborhoods of Dubuque to the rural farmlands outside of Hamburg that were flooded earlier this year from the Missouri River. And I think it’s the dynamics of the ag part of the state as well as the old industrial, as well as in these urban cores like Des Moines. I think is better understanding all the areas of the state.
DEADLINE: How are voters responding to the media? The difference between this cycle and last cycle is we’ve had four years of attacks on the media coming from from the president, mainly.
HILLYARD: People want to tell you what’s happening in their lives. … And these people want to share their stories. And that’s what we can offer them is that platform — a listening ear to go and share that on such a broad, such a big level. I think it’s the most rewarding thing because, ultimately, the reality is, folks know that even the president of United States is watching our television. And I think that’s our purpose here, and I think folks realize that.