Halfway through the Democratic National Convention, what do you think? Are you liking this unconventional convention?
I have to admit, I’m really liking it. A lot.
Years and years of watching conventions coming from big arenas and it all looked the same, felt the same, sounded the same. Big speeches to roaring crowds might rile up the base, but the past two nights have delivered something that big conventional hall conventions rarely do: a real personal connection. Instead of speakers talking to thousands of people inside the hall and millions watching on TV, it feels like each speaker is talking to just one person: you. That was especially evident when Dr. Jill Biden spoke from a classroom in Wilmington, Delaware, on Tuesday night. Clearly that was a speech made more effective by this format than had it been from at a podium on a big stage in front of a packed arena.
Credit the Democrats for a solid list of speakers who have been able to make that personal connection through a TV or computer screen, which isn’t necessarily easy.
In the end, the one thing that the party might have feared with a virtual convention — an inability to connect with the audience — has not been a problem at all. In fact, quite the opposite. The format has lent itself to a more personal connection. And considering that the Democrats want to contrast Joe Biden as more compassionate and empathetic than President Donald Trump, this format might be the best environment for that.
The Democrats have set the bar high, a bar they will have to match or beat in the final two days of the convention, and one the Republicans will have to meet next week.
Here are some of the other things that popped into my head while watching night two of the Democratic National Convention:
- The roll call was really cool. Seeing delegates cast their votes from the uniqueness of their home states was much more interesting than seeing the votes announced from a sterile convention hall. “This was better,” CNN’s Jake Tapper said after Tuesday’s festivities. Fox News’ Dana Perino said, “I don’t ever want to see another roll call taken in a convention hall. I think this has been awesome. I’ve loved this trip around America.”
- Speaking of the delegate segment, during CBS’s coverage, “Face the Nation” moderator Margaret Brennan said she thought it helped pump life into the convention. She said, “It’s kind of awkward – this entire setting. It’s hard to make it feel authentic. But, even though we’re in people’s living rooms, at least traveling around to the delegates, maybe people feel like they’ve gotten off their living room couches tonight for the first time in a while.”
- Before Dr. Jill Biden’s big speech, the Democrats rolled out some of the big names for other speeches on Tuesday: Bill Clinton, John Kerry, Colin Powell, to name a few. But the most powerful moment of the night before Dr. Biden’s appearance came from Ady Barkan, who used a computer to talk about his ALS diagnosis and health care.
- Another strong moment: a touching video about the long friendship between Joe Biden and the late Arizona Republican Sen. John McCain.
- The plan for Monday’s DNC appeared to be attacking Donald Trump. Tuesday’s day two plan seemed more about pumping up Joe Biden.
- Tonight’s lineup features some political heavyweights: Nancy Pelosi, Elizabeth Warren, Hillary Clinton, Gabrielle Giffords and two really big speakers — Barack Obama and Kamala Harris. Also, two major music stars: Billie Eilish and Jennifer Hudson.
Covering the convention
The networks have quickly adjusted to this new-look convention and all looks smooth. I asked CBS News political director Caitlin Conant what her network’s mission has been.
“The goal of coverage is to distill the latest developments and inform our viewers about what’s unfolding before their eyes,” Conant told me. “Context and original reporting from our correspondents, contributors and analysts will be one of the top priorities for us as we cover these unconventional conventions. We also want to make sure our coverage is compelling, offering perspectives on the coronavirus crisis, the economic tumult and racial justice movement.”
Yet, what’s interesting is that with little downtime, the networks haven’t had to fill too much. The major networks have had little time for analysis, allowing the cable news networks to take advantage of the post-convention coverage.
TV viewership for Monday’s first night of the Democratic National Convention was down significantly from 2016 — more than 25%.
If you look at the one primetime hour when all the networks and cable news stations — ABC, CBS, NBC, CNN, Fox News and MSNBC — simultaneously aired the convention, the average audience was about 18.68 million viewers. In 2016, those networks had nearly 25 million viewers. The biggest slip was seen by the major networks — ABC, CBS, NBC. After combining for about 11.6 million viewers in 2016, they drew around 6.7 million viewers on Monday.
Most viewers were tuned into MSNBC, which had 5.1 million viewers, followed by CNN with 4.78 million. Not surprisingly, Fox News had only 2.1 million viewers. Cable news viewers — nearly 12 million — were down about 16% from four years ago.
Don’t get too caught up in the TV numbers because people don’t watch things the way they traditionally watched them. This isn’t 1980 when everyone who watched the old Johnny Carson “Tonight Show” did so strictly on their televisions. Today, bits from Jimmy Fallon’s “Tonight Show,” or segments like James Corden’s “Carpool Karaoke” are more likely to be watched on YouTube and social media later than live on traditional TV at midnight or 1 in the morning.
And this year’s DNC — and you would assume, the RNC — with taped video segments is perfect for later viewing. Michelle Obama’s opening night speech had well over a million views on YouTube and that number will surely grow in the coming days.
But this is even more significant: Not everyone watches events on TV, which is the only place Nielsen registers viewers. The Democrats claim that millions more were watching Monday night on streaming services, such as Twitter and YouTube. CNN’s Brian Stelter reported that Joe Biden’s national press secretary, TJ Ducklo, said at least 10.2 million people watched live internet streams. And USA Today’s Bart Jansen and William Cummings wrote, “online participation was up dramatically enough to offset the decline” in the TV numbers.
60 minutes only
Why do the major networks — ABC, CBS and NBC — show only an hour of the convention each night when it technically runs two hours? Well, for starters, conventions simply don’t perform as well as TV shows. Networks are still in the business of drawing as many eyeballs as possible, and anything more than an hour of convention coverage isn’t good for business.
But there’s something else in play this election cycle, according to a Tuesday story in The Daily Beast by Sam Stein, Maxwell Tani and Lloyd Grove. Sources told them that the networks still don’t know what’s in store for the Republican National Convention. The networks didn’t want to turn over two hours each night to the Democrats and then be forced to give the Republicans the same amount of time. And, the story says, they were hesitant to turn over two hours to Donald Trump without knowing the convention plans.
My Pillow fight
Did you happen to catch Anderson Cooper’s interview with My Pillow founder and big Donald Trump supporter Mike Lindell on CNN Tuesday afternoon? It flew off the rails, with at one point Cooper calling Lindell a “snake oil salesman” and asking him, “How do you sleep at night?”
Lindell was talking about the use of oleandrin as a potential coronavirus treatment. He called it “the miracle of all time” and suggested that tests are out there to show it works. But when pressed by Cooper, Lindell could not provide details about any tests or why it hasn’t been made public. A flustered Lindell blurted out, “There has been studies the FDA has not published yet.”
Eventually, a frustrated Cooper laid into Lindell, comparing him to a “snake oil salesman” from the Old West. He then said to Lindell, “You have no medical background. You have no science background at all. You have a financial stake in this company. … You can’t give any details about an alleged study of a thousand people that you allegedly have read, yet you remember nothing about it. This has not been tested anywhere outside one lab in a test tube … yet you say this is the cure of COVID.”
In another exchange, Lindell asked why he would push something that wouldn’t work. And Cooper said, “Money.”
When Lindell asked, “Why would I ruin my reputation?” Anderson said, “You don’t have a great reputation.”
My initial reaction was: Why even have this guy on? Why interview him? Why bring on someone who is not a doctor, not a scientist and is pushing something that is potentially dangerous?
Here’s why: Sadly, there are those out there who might believe this is a cure and will take it. It’s important for news outlets to shoot down this harmful drug and it’s especially important for Cooper to dismantle Lindell the way he did on Tuesday.
How bad did Lindell look? CNN “United Shades of America” host W. Kamau Bell tweeted, “Anderson Cooper is on CNN right making the MyPillow guy look like a guy who shouldn’t even be allowed to sell pillows.”
Later on CNN, Dr. Sanjay Gupta told Wolf Blitzer, “What’s going on here is that a totally unproven therapy that is actually quite dangerous is something that has made its way into the ear of the president. This is not something that you want to take.”
Gupta said there has been talk this could be sold as a supplement, and that there are those who think taking a “supplement” can’t hurt.
“That’s not the case here; this one could hurt,” Gupta said. “It has no evidence whatsoever in humans to show it could be beneficial against the coronavirus. I watched the interview that Anderson did with this founder of My Pillow earlier and he said that there’s phase one and phase two data around this. There’s not. … You don’t want to use this.”
Remembering the Post’s “traffic cop”
Anne Ferguson-Rohrer, a longtime copy desk chief at The Washington Post who most recently worked as night news director, has died. She had been battling pancreatic cancer. She was 58.
Her friend and colleague Carrie Camillo called her the “traffic cop” of night news in Adam Bernstein’s touching obit in the Post.
Bernstein wrote, “News editors tend to play quiet backstage roles in journalism, serving as guardians of language and common sense as they uphold journalistic standards in a relentless news cycle. Ms. Ferguson-Rohrer was an unusually colorful figure — literally so, with her flaming red hair — in the newsroom. Off deadline, she was a gregarious presence with an omnivorous appreciation for high- and lowbrow culture, a fascination with the Yankees and the Giants of her youth, and a devotion to animal rights. But under looming deadlines, when reporters and editors delayed in finishing stories, Ms. Ferguson-Rohrer was known for firing off intra-office missives that were caustic and sometimes profane, with a certain mafioso persuasiveness.”
In one of the all-time great lines, she once told editors, “I hate you with the heat of a thousand suns.”
Bernstein wrote she said it “partly — perhaps — in jest.”
Be sure to read all of Bernstein’s obit of Ferguson-Rohrer.
Vice has a new special newsletter out called “The Mail.” Written by Aaron Gordon, Vice describes it as “in-depth reports about the United States Postal Service, exploring this institution’s role in the most important election of our lifetime. The newsletter will analyze the USPS’ ability to survive in the face of financial calamity with a Postmaster General accused of destroying it from the inside.”
“The Mail” includes a free digital newsletter and a paid option of $8 per month that offers three hardcopy zines mailed monthly by, of course, the USPS. Paid subscriptions will get extra content, such as art, handwritten letters, bonus issues and more. It will begin publishing Aug. 25 and run through the end of November. You can sign up here.
- The New York Times has a new ad campaign called “Life Needs Truth.” The campaign compiles headlines and images from nearly 100 pieces of Times journalism with the purpose of showing its commitment to readers on how to navigate these difficult times of the coronavirus, race relations and all the other important topics impacting the country right now.
- The first joint interview of Joe Biden and Kamala Harris has gone to a surprising outlet: People magazine. The interview is up now on People’s website.
In Tuesday’s newsletter, I either promoted or demoted (depending on how you see it) Andrew Cuomo from the governor of New York to the mayor of New York City. He is the governor. Sorry for the error.
- NPR TV critic Eric Deggans talks with NPR senior political editor Domenico Montanaro about the feel of the first night of the virtual DNC.
- The Ringer’s Ben Lindbergh with “One Twitter Account’s Quest to Proofread The New York Times.”
- The Washington Post editorial board with “Austin Tice’s Suffering Is Great and Constant. It’s Time to End It.”
Have feedback or a tip? Email Poynter senior media writer Tom Jones at firstname.lastname@example.org.
More resources for journalists
- Sign up to receive our new Coronavirus Facts newsletter — PolitiFact and MediaWise
- What Would Antiracist Journalism Look Like? — Aug. 21 at 11:30 a.m. Eastern, Journalism Institute, National Press Club
- Survive and Thrive in Freelance and Remote Work (Self-directed) — Sept. 1, Poynter
- The Weirdest Election “Night” Ever: What journalists need to know about the 2020 elections and a working democracy (Online Group Seminar) — Sept. 9-10, Poynter
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