Counterpoint: Political reporters say attending conventions is crucial

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Last week in Tampa, Michael Calderone writes, Bloomberg Businessweek reporter Sheelah Kolhatkar briefly attended the Republican National Convention and walked away with one of the event's few big scoops: an account of a Karl Rove-hosted breakfast that opened a rare window on how big-league fundraising occurs in U.S. politics. "Scoops and valuable, legitimate nuggets of insight and information are hard to come by in Conventionland, yet reporters who swarmed the halls en masse in Tampa are all at it again in Charlotte," Calderone writes.

Washington Post reporter Dan Balz tells Calderone it's important for journalists to be at conventions anyway. Among other reasons: "You can't get a feel for the optics in a way that you do if you're watching TV." (Optics again!) Mother Jones' David Corn tells him access is a lot easier at the convention: "Frankly, it's sometimes hard to get people on the phone if you're not The New York Times or Washington Post." Corn calls the convention a "really, really big green room," Corn said. "In the green room, everyone's kind of equal."

Dana Milbank describes some of the sweet swag raining down on media attendees (“It’s like spring break out there, and this is like the cool party everybody wants to get into,” he hears a Bloomberg representative say) and runs a few numbers:

Do not be deceived by all that talk of delegates and floor speeches: This is a convention of the media, by the media and for the media. There are some 15,000 representatives of the media here for the convention, and only about 5,000 delegates. This mathematical imbalance means most journalists spend their time with other journalists at events sponsored by corporations and hosted by media organizations for the purpose of entertaining advertisers and promoting themselves to each other.

Fox News, writes Gabriel Sherman, "has a minimal public footprint at the conventions" even though it dominates ratings for the event. "It's the networks that are the furthest behind that seem to be spending the most," he notes.

I asked the network about their diminutive party presence at the conventions, and executive vice-president Michael Clemente responded with a statement: "We're more interested in using our personnel to gather facts and report on the convention. We'll leave the catering and bartending to others."

Like MSNBC, maybe? Ashley Parker and Michael Barbaro write about the enthusiastic reception that network is receiving in Charlotte.

Four years ago, there was open anxiety inside MSNBC over having the unabashedly partisan Keith Olbermann anchor convention coverage. But the era of liberal hand-wringing appears to have passed. “I feel they are part of this convention,” explained Lorret Battist, a 58-year-old MSNBC fan from Atlanta, who excitedly snapped a picture of [MSNBC host Joe] Scarborough on the sidewalk on Tuesday. “They are in tune with the people here.”

Emily Bell pries the lid off news organizations using the convention to road-test their enhanced video strategies, which she says is not a small disruption:

Here is the rub for those used to producing text-based journalism when confronted by an opportunity to produce video: It is not a small shift, but a stretch in language, culture, process, and resources. To date, most non-broadcast or cable news outlets have struggled to make much impact with online video, and audiences have had neither the bandwidth nor the devices to make it a worthwhile investment. But both sides of the equation are changing to the benefit of new entrants. Video consumption, especially on YouTube, is increasing exponentially. A younger audience expects to be able to sample and consume news away from broadcast networks. All this means that mobile video is poised to become as disruptive for broadcast as the Web has been for print.

U.S. copyright law, however, remains stubbornly resistant to disruption: Ryan Singel reports that YouTube blocked the convention's live feed after Michelle Obama's speech Tuesday night. "The most likely culprit is YouTube’s pre-emptive content filters, which allow large media companies to upload content they claim to own and automatically block videos that an algorithm decides matches their own," Singel writes.

Related: Fact-checkers turn their attention to Democrats' claims Tuesday and find lots to dispute (NPR) | The media "whinefest" hurts democracy (American Prospect)

  • Andrew Beaujon

    Andrew Beaujon reported on the media for Poynter from 2012 to 2015. He was previously arts editor at and managing editor of Washington City Paper. He's the author of the 2006 book "Body Piercing Saved My Life," about Christian rock and evangelical Christian culture.


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