Sunday, August 31, 2008

Media coverage of the DNC

Some brief observations of the media (new media and MSM) and their coverage of/interactions with the DNC:

Having the opportunity to attend the DNC in Denver has been amazing! There is so much general buzz in the air, that just being in the city makes a person excited about the election. Since I’ve been blogging some about my general convention experience at (sorry it’s not more comprehensive—being at the Convention means early mornings and late nights, so I haven’t had a ton of time at home in front of my computer), I figure I’ll use this space to explore some of the more media-specific aspects of the DNC.

New York Times vs. Denver Post (Sunday, August 24)
It’s the Sunday before the Convention starts, and Denver is already packed with people (delegates, supporters, policy wonks, press, and protesters among them). Reading the New York Times, however, it is not so clear that the Democrats are on the eve of their convention. Withholding a single article in the Styles section about bloggers, there is not a single article about the convention. The Denver Post, on the other hand, has paired up with Politico for the duration of the week for a special convention coverage section. While it obviously makes more sense for the local paper to have more thorough coverage of the events that are happening in Denver, I was surprised throughout the week at the Times’ lackluster coverage of the convention.

It seems that The Times reserved most of the convention coverage for The Caucus, their online political blog. Perhaps the editors have realized that the general public isn’t all that interested in the convention, or the ones who do care are there, but there was little in the way of “human interest” convention stories. Of course the paper covered the Clintons’ speeches and Obama’s big night at Invesco, but they had far fewer stories about the protesters, the delegates, or the parties in Denver. The blog also had raw “Live from Denver” coverage of the speeches.

Getting the story (Monday, August 25)
Every newspaper across the country will have front-page stories about the headline speeches at the Pepsi Center and Invesco Mile High Stadium. Because of that, however, those speeches become less noteworthy, and newspapers must find other ways to distinguish themselves from their local and national competitors. And so, a small group of anti-abortion protesters becomes the flocking point for reporters; a group of ten McCain supporters attracts the press like flypaper, and the tears of a few Hillary supporters become national news. The big story is not in the scripted lines of the convention, but in those moments that deviate from the choreography. Is this part of the problem with the press? Is this why the general public reports trusting the press less and less?

Old media vs. new (Tuesday, August 26)
Yesterday I spend part of my day in the Big Tent, which is where credentialed bloggers are set up. It’s a pretty nice workspace, especially given that this is the first time bloggers have had a designated place to mingle and write. As the Denver Post reports today, “TV is far from only way to see the show.” Not only has the DNC brought in hundreds of credentialed bloggers, but every single delegate, guest, and protester also has the opportunity to create his or her own coverage. While my blogspot blog will most likely not garner as much attention as the reports that come from CNN’s headquarters, I would contend that my news can be just as newsworthy. Some of the MSM’s talking heads, however, disagree. ABC New’s Marc Burstein acknowledges the kid with the cellphone, but doubts his effectiveness in transmitting a clear story. “He may have the pictures, but he’s not going to be able to tell you what they mean. It’s just about meaningless without context.” Sounds pretty elitist, if you ask me…

The MSM still has the most prominent role in covering the convention, and the most prominent positions in the convention hall, but the times they are a-changing. While most people still rely on the MSM for the bulk of their news, many people use blogs (and niche blogs in particular) to supplement their news. The New York Times may not always pick up every single Planned Parenthood press release (though they did cover our condom distribution at the convention), but Salon, Jezebel, and RH Reality Check always will. For people who want to be on the forefront of reproductive health news, they know that the MSM isn’t always the best option.

Paparazzi in Denver (Tuesday, August 26)
The lights are flashing here not only for the likes of Ashley Judd and Jennifer Garner, but also for the Clintons, Governor Sebelius, and Mitt Romney (who made an appearance at the Brown Palace prior to his press conference). While the convention may be celebrity-studded, and much attention is paid to these Hollywood stars, it’s really all about the Washington celebs. For convention-goers, it’s about who you know in Washington—who got you tickets to a special VIP party, who was at that party, who’s box you were in for the speeches. In Denver this week, and in Minneapolis next, big Washington names are as big as Hollywood ones.

Schweitzer: The next big name? (Tuesday, August 26)
Montana Governor Brian Schweitzer brought the convention center to its feet tonight—will be the media’s next big star?

All eyes on Denver (Wednesday, August 27)
At the campaign briefing today with strategists from Obama for America and the DNC, David Plouffe told the crowd that this convention had been getting higher ratings than any previous convention (and this was before Obama’s big night on Thursday). What exactly does this mean, though? How does the reporting of the convention influence voting patterns?

Substance vs. spectacle (Wednesday, August 27)
I was talking today to a radio talks how host from Texas about how the media could be reporting on the convention from the comforts of their own homes. Given modern technology, there really is no need to be in the convention center or at Invesco. While modern technology can transmit the words and the images, however, it can’t convey the emotions or the atmosphere. And so thousands of members of the press converge on Denver so that they can better weave the tears and the elation into their reporting. But does this focus on the emotion and energy of the convention detract from the substance? Would the reporters pay more attention to the policy part of the equation if they were forced to report from home?

As a consumer of media, nine times out of ten I will choose a story about how Hillary’s speech was powerful in convincing her supporters to vote for Obama over a story about the hard substance of her speech. As a voter, however, the latter story is probably a better selection. What is interesting is that people complain about the lack of substantive reporting on candidates (the media covers polls, speculation, delivery, and strategy over policy much of the time), yet it is hard to deny that readers enjoy those pieces more. I guess what it comes down to is a balance of the two. As we head towards Thursday’s big show, will the media cover the spectacle or the substance of Obama’s speech?

The big day (Thursday, August 28)
I won’t go into details here about the speech itself, or the spectacle of the night; you can read that in just about every blog or newspaper. Instead, I want to comment on one thing that caught my attention multiple times throughout the evening.

John McCain and the MSM have jumped on Obama’s popular appeal and dubbed him a “celebrity,” invoking all of the negative connotations of the words. In response to these attacks, there was a focus on Thursday night to refute Obama’s status as a celebrity. My guess is that this repetition was in part for the viewers at home, and in part for the members of the media who would be reporting on the night.

Given the setup of the evening (a reported 84,000 people were at the stadium), the initial reaction for reporters is to comment on the magnitude of the night, and possibly link it back to McCain’s “Celebrity” ad. And so from the beginning, the Obama strategists seemed to decide that they wanted to give the press a different message to use. David Plouffe came out early in the program to talk about why we were at Mile High Stadium. He talked not about Obama’s celebrity status, obviously, but about making it an “open” convention. Joe Biden stayed on this message in his speech, as well, and Obama hammered it home by telling the stories of ordinary citizens and telling the crowd, “"I don't know what kind of lives John McCain thinks that celebrities lead, but this has been mine. These are my heroes. Theirs are the stories that shaped me.”

The speech was inspirational, and being among thousands of supporters waving flags and Obama signs was an amazing experience, but did they really have to go for the fireworks? Not very anti-celebrity, if you ask me…

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Tuesday: Hillary supporters for Obama

After a long night with Planned Parenthood last night, it was another early morning at the Brown Palace to register DNC Finance members and make sure they got their credentials for the day. This time, though, I got credentials too.

After finishing up my shift, I headed over to the Manifest Hope gallery--a special installation of Unconventional 2008 that features artwork of Barack Obama and hope. It was small, and a definite hike from downtown, but definitely worth it. Politics isn't all about the policy wonks and credentialed delegates. Especially this year, Barack Obama has touched the hearts of so many people and inspired them to get involved in any way possible.

Then it was off to the Pepsi Center! Speeches begin at 3pm, but it's a sad sight to be there at the beginning. The speakers are at the podium, trying to look animated and enthusiastic, but they are essentially talking to a non-existent audience. For those who are there, their attention is wavering and many are occupied by conversations, their phones, or even books.

I got there early, though, to make sure I got a seat, to see Cecile Richards (Planned Parenthood president) speak, and to take it all in. The speeches were on the slow side until Dennis Kucinich took the stage and riled up the crowd with his calls to “Wake up, America!”

His speech in particular, though, highlighted the differences between many of the delegates and the other guests. Many of the delegates are big activists, while other guests are donors, policy wonks, or Washingtonians. The delegates on the floor tend to get crazier/have more dramatic reactions than the other guests. While everyone on the floor was on their feet and cheering for Kucinich, many of the guests off the floor restrained themselves to polite clapping. There are so many different groups of people here in Denver (from delegates to policy folks to protesters), and it is interesting to see how the groups differ and interact with each other.

A friend was able to get me into one of the DNC Finance lounges, so we missed some of the middle speeches, but I was back in my seat and ready to go for Montana Governor Schweitzer’s rousing speech. It’s too bad that Warner was the keynote and not Schweitzer—the general consensus seemed to be that Schweitzer’s speech was much stronger than Warner's, and did a great job of energizing the crowd for Hillary.

As for Hillary, I was definitely impressed. While some of the talking heads and high-up Dems critiqued her speech and chided her for not being strong enough, I thought she did a good job of displaying party unity and emphasizing her support for Obama. The crowd in the hall seemed to agree--even the most ardent Obama supporters didn't seem to have a problem cheering for her and holding up the white Hillary signs they passed out. The photo op of the evening, though, was of people holding the blue UNITY, HILLARY, and OBAMA signs. And then we all held hands and sang cumbaya...

Monday: And so it begins

What an exciting day! A long one to be sure (6am until 3am), but well worth it. With the official Convention activities finally underway, I can feel the excitement in the air. Walking down the main downtown street, a wide array of Convention and Obama (official and unofficial) gear is available for purchase. This selection includes the obligatory t-shirts, but also Obama dolls, belt buckles, coffee, and a Goodnight, Bush book (parodied from Goodnight, Moon).

Today was my Planned Parenthood day. I arrived at the PP "war room" at the Warwick hotel and was immediately thrown a bright pink shirt to put on. Properly outfitted, I grabbed a shopping bag full of Protect Yourself from John McCain condoms ( and headed to the Big Tent to spread the message about women's health to the hundreds of bloggers who are in town for the Convention.

The Big Tent is a new thing this year; given the rise of blogging, and its growing reputation as a legitimate news source, the Dems have gone out of their way to try and accommodate as many as possible. Bloggers have special credentials that get them into the tent (some have credentials giving them access to the perimeter of the Pepsi Center or to the floor), and can set up shop there while getting free wireless, free 10-minute massages, free smoothies, free coffee and water, and free beer. Certainly not a bad place to be... This is an interesting set-up because all of the bloggers are in one space together. Instead of communicating with each other online and via each others' blogs, the various authors have the opportunity to share ideas face to face and bounce ideas off other writers.

My assignment was to hand out the condoms and stress PP's message that woman's health is an important issue in this election. Many of the bloggers had already heard about the condoms after yesterday (and a writeup about them in the Boston Globe) and were eager to collect as many as possible in order to get the full set.

From there it was on to the Pepsi Center. I was able to borrow someone's credentials for an hour, which was just enough time to make a pass down Radio Row and give out condoms and information on John McCain and his anti-woman's health record. I gave out the condoms and a few quotes and headed back to the hotel to prepare for the final event of the day--PP's big Sex, Cocktails, and Politics Party.

Unfortunately, because I had to work the PP event, I wasn't unable to get to the Pepsi Center to see Ted Kennedy or Michelle Obama speak. We watched it on TV all together, though, and the speech nearly brought me to tears. Even though I wasn't there in person, watching it with a group and knowing that it was taking place right down the street was an amazing feeling. That's also part of the reason why so many media folk make their way to Denver; this day and age most of them could do their reporting from home, but it just wouldn't have the same feel or energy if they weren't here.

While the Convention is supposedly about the politics, anyone here will tell you that the real fun starts when the speeches end. The party went as well as we could have expected--there had been lots of coverage of the event, and it was hyped to be one of the best parties of the night. Without going into the gory details, I will say that I am happy I don't work at nightclubs as a living. Working the line and making sure only people who were on the list got on (and that VIPs, celebrities, and media people got in first through the special entrance) was a hectic, but fun, task.

Entrance to parties is an interesting way to gauge who's who. While our list was closed, and only people who RSVPed were getting in, there were certain people for whom we made an exception: Cindy Lauper, Ashley Judd, and Aisha Tyler are celebrity enough, as are Governor Sebelius' kids and Susie Buffet, but Joe Biden's staff doesn't cut it (though PP may regret that decision once he's VP and they want to work with his staff).

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Sunday: Just getting started

While the Convention doesn’t officially start until tomorrow, that doesn’t mean that the city isn’t geared up and ready to go. Police, SWAT teams, delegates, Washingtonians, and protesters have all found their ways to Denver and are ready for action! The city is abuzz with activity, and is certainly the place to be this week.

One of my most interesting observations thus far is in regard to the protesters. Given that this is my first Convention, I came in with very few expectations. What I had not anticipated, though, was a large crowd of anti-Convention activists (and the large numbers of police officers that accompany them). Not only did Denver bring in officers from nearby cities, but it also constructed a makeshift holding cell out of an old warehouse. This will certainly prove to be an interesting week, and I am curious to see what the interactions are between the protesters and the delegates and the police force.

I helped out with registration for the DNC Finance Committee members (aka the big donors). Nothing too interesting to report, other than the Clintons are staying in the hotel where I am working, which means that police officers on horseback stand guard at the entrance and Secret Service officers line the exterior of the building.