Even if something happened to Obama, "we wouldn't be able to report it for our own [outlets] until the pool report is sent out by the White House to the [full] White House press corps," grumbled one White House reporter, who asked not to be named because he was not authorized to speak on his employer's behalf.
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The president's Florida sojourn was relatively inexpensive, as such trips go. The White House Office, which arranges reporters' travel, said last week that a charter flight to Newport News, Va., for a presidential speech on Tuesday would cost reporters between $1,300 and $4,300, depending on which carrier was selected and how many reporters signed up. Reporters voted for a second option for the 340-mile round trip — a chartered bus, costing about $60 per person.
A three-day trip in October by the president to California (for fundraising) and to Ohio (for a campaign speech) cost media organizations $33,022.86 for each person they sent, according to The Washington Post's billing records.
A presidential visit to Thailand, Burma and Cambodia in November may have been the most expensive yet. With multiple legs, lodging and food, news organizations wound up paying nearly $35,000 per head, according to The Post's records. Some reporters saved about half the cost of the trip by taking commercial flights to Thailand, boarding the official press plane only while traveling within Asia.
Only a handful of news organizations — typically, the major wire services, the TV networks and the New York Times and The Post — regularly send a reporter along with the president now. Others take what some wags call the Expedia Option (after the travel-booking Web site), picking their trips based on cost and perceived news value.
But knowing which might produce the most news is pure guesswork. "We just don't have a theory," says Ben Smith, editor of Buzzfeed, a Web site that assigned reporters to travel with the president during the campaign. "We are still figuring out which ones are worth it."