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…

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