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February 25, 2013

Covering Obama: Is this trip worth it?

(Continued)

WASHINGTON —

The Wall Street Journal's Washington bureau chief, Gerald Seib, said his paper decided not to send a reporter to cover Obama's golf vacation. "If a trip is designed to be non-newsworthy, with no prospect of access, we'll take a pass, " he said. But "when the president is doing the president's business, our inclination is to be there." Added Seib, "You do wonder at times, is this worth it?"

In fact, important news can break out at any time, even during nominal "down" times on the road for the president. In December 2009, while Obama was on vacation in Hawaii, a Nigerian man attempted to blow up a Detroit-bound jetliner with explosives concealed in his underwear. During another presidential vacation in August 2011, the uprising in Libya came to a head.

"All of these trips are important because you don't know what hasn't happened yet," said Cameron Barr, The Post's national editor. News organizations "have to balance the cost of not being with the president and missing something important."

Even when news doesn't happen, reporters can gain valuable insights about the president and his administration by traveling with him and his staff, said David Leonhardt, the New York Times' Washington bureau chief. "Yes, [these trips] are expensive," he added. "But we still think they're worth it."

By far, the most costly part of presidential press is airfare, particularly the special charter planes that reporters take. The charters are hired by the White House Office based on a competitive bid that is approved by members of the White House Correspondents' Association. Most of the eye-popping cost of the trip to Asia in November was for passage on Air Force One and the chartered press jet; The Post paid $31,717 for its seats on the two planes during that trip. (The White House Office charges the media the same for either plane).

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