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July 29, 2004

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Higher Prices for Convention Security Could Mean Less News Coverage

Media Nation Staff Reports
Thursday, July 29, 2004

Network and cable TV news organizations report Tuesday evening from their vantage points over the convention floor
Media Nation Photo by Sarah M. J. Welch

It is a mantra as common as the roll call of convention delegates. As each quadrennial political convention comes to a close, predictions run rife that the convention will change next time around, along with the news coverage.

So what, if anything, has been different about this convention?

“It wasn’t an accident that when [the Democrats] first went on network television … they opened with a video about 9/11,” said George DeLama, a managing editor for the Chicago Tribune. “The Republicans will no doubt do the same thing in New York.”

Another difference lies in the debut of a new way to cover the event.

“Every convention is like a coming-out party for a new medium,” DeLama observed. “In 1996 it was the Internet folks …. In the 90s, you started to see the rise of cable news … networks, and this time it’s the bloggers.” The Tribune, he said, has three people doing blogs. “The response we’ve gotten is amazing.

The Associated Press’ Walter Mears, who is blogging for the wire service, started at the AP during the days of manual typewriters and teletype machines. “Copy moved at 65 words per minute,” he said.

Mears, who is covering his twelfth presidential campaign, said he's "having a ball. This is my home and I’m delighted to be here. This is where I started with the AP a long time ago -- 1955 -- in the old Globe building on Lexington Street,” he said. For him, the change in technology had meant more contact with readers.

“I’ve been getting more attention writing the blog than I’ve had in years,” Mears said. “I’ve found it very amusing as the world’s oldest blogger with all of three days experience in the field.”

As security related to the convention gets more expensive, there’s speculation that the higher price tag will mean less news coverage and even a shorter convention.

“Could it be done in two nights instead of four night?” said Terence Smith, media correspondent for The NewsHour on PBS. “Of course it could.”

Tom Oliphant, a columnist with The Boston Globe, says the convention is becoming ever-increasingly an infomercial. “It’s a print reporter’s dream because there’s world-class schmooze.” (He insists on fully disclosing that his daughter is a speechwriter for John Edwards.)

Will the political parties give up the opportunity to showcase their candidates, their stars and rising stars? Not likely.

While complaints abound about the seemingly scripted nature of recent political conventions, Oliphant says it could be unwise to predict their extinction simply because the television networks are cutting back on their coverage.

“The pendulum never freezes. It’s always moving, and it would serve those broadcasting idiots right if one year it catches them with their pants down,” he said.

Bill Schneider of CNN likened the political conventions to major family events. “You don’t go to a bar mitzvah to see any news; you go to find out how the fella does,” he said. “The whole country will be watching to see how does [Kerry] do.”



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