Brendan Nyhan at the Columbia Journalism Review looks at how reporters unintentionally skew their own Iowa coverage. But he also makes an interesting point about why these initial small contests, like Iowa, actually matter:
First, the good news. While it may be democratically dubious to give such disproportionate weight to a few small states, early primaries and caucuses do play a crucial role in the primary process, by giving Republicans (or Democrats) useful information about the candidates vying for their nomination. As the political scientist Jonathan Bernstein has argued, the function of these early contests is to “produce the information that party actors want [about candidate viability], do so in a timely way that allows them to incorporate that information into their decisions, and allow for coordination and orderly competition by party actors.” In this way, both elites and citizens who wish to cast their votes strategically can coalesce around the candidates who perform best.