In the headiest part of primary election season, as the candidates dash from state to state, delivering hoarse-throated speeches, attending caucuses, and dropping out of the race one by one, those of us comfortably at home have to wonder what it’s to be part of the madness. At MSNBC’s “The Place for Politics 2016,” Jacob Soboroff is the reporter on the campaign trail who does a lot of interfacing with the folks who don’t have press teams following them everywhere — which is to say, the actual voters. He has covered the Iowa Caucus with students, helped door-to-door volunteers hone their pitches, narrated “What Is a Caucus?”animated explainers, done segments on Donald Trump’s union-busting struggles and bumped into politicians unexpectedly as they dash from place to place.
We caught him for a quick chat on the phone from Las Vegas, while he tried to figure out where he was headed out for Super Tuesday.
What’s an actual day like for a campaign reporter during primary season?
We wake up really, really early: 4 a.m., 3 a.m., and read internal updates at MSNBC and NBC news to see what our colleagues will be covering and talking about. Then we get to where we need to be. When we work on these those little packages — a lot of the day is running around like a crazy person. The challenge is balance between being on the air live and putting those pieces together.
How has social media changed the way campaigns operate?
In general, coverage now is sort of non-stop. The minute we’re off the air, I can talk to different audience of people, but I don’t treat the audiences any differently. They deserve the same level of respect from journalists, reporters. We’re storytellers, whether it’s TV or Twitter.
What about the realtime social media feedback you get as a reporter?
It helps me be better at what I do, but makes me incredibly self-conscious!
There’s so much conversation about “millennials” and “the millennial vote” this year. As a fellow older millennial, what if anything do you think this chatter is missing?
The most annoying part of the conversation is that people want to talk about “millennials” as a monolithic group. In fact, we care about what we care about as individuals. Yes, young people would make largest voting bloc if we voted together. But we don’t vote together because we have different wants, needs and priorities. For me, the most interesting thing is we’re starting to get treated with respect because of the power of our vote, but the true respect will come when we realize we’re not the same. I mean, my younger sister communicates mostly by snapchat, and it makes me feel so awkward as an older millennial.
I hear you’ve been sparheading some of the network’s snapchat coverage though.
Our snapchat is often me making silly faces in really important situations, and transmitting snippets of important details and key events in a way I hope people get to grasp quickly with funny captions and drawings on the screen. What it really is honestly is a very brief window into what we do every day, the places I am, what I’m seeing, including the weather. A lot of weather.
In New Hampshire, you went out into a middle of a lake to talk to ice-fishers.
That was the most random location I reported from. We have so many people covering candidates it would be redundant to just follow them all the time. So my reporting took me into a middle of frozen lake where people were ice-fishing.
Were you worried you were going to fall in?
What is the most surprising thing you’ve seen a candidate do so far?
I prefer the unscripted moments vs. the electric moment because the latter is often choreographed. Once we were setting up our cameras and Hillary Rodham Clinton walked out the door and started talking to voters, and she wasn’t there to meet with a reporter. That’s the best kind of moment. We chatted about DREAMERs, she went on her way.
Those random, unexpected moments are my favorite,
[Editor’s note: a similar unscripted moment with Donald Trump soon followed our interview:
Watching from home, we see so much about the different character of the first few states: one is flinty and the other is friendly and so on? Are these stereotypes based in truth?
Definitely in the early states: Iowa and New Hampshire are so proud of their place in the process they want you to know how seriously they take it, and themselves. In Nevada, I’ve spent more time than anyone should spend in Vegas in one stretch. It’s just a mix of observing the Democratic process and also daily life in Las Vegas. The car dealers, the concierges, housekeepers, janitors… life goes on and you see what’s happening outside little bubble that we live in, particularly here in Vegas where turnout is pretty low.
Outside the media world, there’s a critique of the obsession with the “horse race” and trying to suss out winners, which can erase the voters and the policy discussion.
Absolutely. A poll is a poll is a poll. I don’t mean to disrespect the industry of polling because I’m fascinated by it and I follow it closely. But honestly, anything can happen any time. When real people from the outside world interact with candidates and with the bubble that all of this goes on it — when something from outside world punctures that bubble, that fascinates me. Of course if we didn’t follow candidates, nothing would be known, but I like to look opposite directions of cameras to see how people are reacting to this process. That’s equally fascinating.
Are there elements of VEEP, The Newsroom and even House of Cards that now ring truer to you?
There are elements of those shows, but those shows are half an hour or an hour. We have 16-17 hour days, so a lot of it is a lot of waiting, making background calls, just grinding it out. Yes, there’s a lot of drama out here, that’s for sure but also it’s pretty hysterical and fun, too.