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Aug 30 2012

Should the Media Even Cover the Conventions?

Jeff Jarvis asks a question that may seem shocking at first, but I think he has a point: Should the media even bother to cover the two major party conventions? They’re great entertainment for political junkies who still retain some measure of idealism, but they’re really just 4-day infomercials.

Jarvis calculates that the press spends something on the order of $60 million to cover the two conventions. And for what? Almost nothing is reported that is of real value, nothing that brings real, useful information to voters. And for what?

Editorial ego: It’s fun to be there, in the pack. It’s fun for a paper or station to say, “We have our man/woman in Tampa/Charlotte.” Well goody for you.

It’s a waste.

Take that $60,000,000 and divide it by a fully loaded labor cost of, say, $100,000 per head and it would pay for 600 reporters for a year. At $50,000 for a hyperlocal reporter, we’d get 1,200 towns covered — more than Patch! What could they do versus what you will do in Tampa and Charlotte transcribing marketing messages and horrid memes?…

At least 3,775 newspaper jobs were lost last year; 39,806 since mid-2007; one in three newsroom jobs have been eliminated since 1989. How’s that make you feel, convention press corps?

It makes them feel like they’re part of the game, playing a very important role in American democracy. But they’re not. They’re just transcribing the endless litany of cliches, platitudes and focus group-tested catchphrases. Jarvis is right that he could easily be proven wrong. At the end of the two conventions, simply point to the important stories that came out of the conventions. Good luck with that.

24 comments

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  1. 1
    Marcus Ranum

    For them to be “infomercials” they’d have to actually be informative, though, wouldn’t they?

  2. 2
    dugglebogey

    Wow, to think that money could be used to do actual “journalism” instead.

    Mind = blown.

  3. 3
    Bronze Dog

    I’m certainly not motivated to watch. If something important did happen at one of these conventions, I’d sooner expect a political blogger with a cellphone camera to cover it than the mainstream news networks.

  4. 4
    daved

    This is an excellent point and I wish I’d thought to articulate it. I mean, I’ve always thought that the conventions are mostly a waste of time, and primarily exist to fire up the base, get free TV time, and massage the egos of politicians who get to make speeches during prime time.

    I hadn’t considered the amount of money wasted by sending all those reporters. You could do a lot with $60 million. Do the networks recover any of this cost?

  5. 5
    d cwilson

    I actually say yes, even though I do find them dull, overly scripted events and the gavel-to-gavel coverage on the cable channels is too much. They are still part of the political process as such, are something the media should pay attention to.

    And who knows? If something actually newsworthy were to happen there, it’d be good if the media were on site to document it. I keep hoping a fist fight will break out between the Paultards and Romneyites. Or at minimum, we’ll thousands of rich, old, white republicans dancing to “We Built This City”. If nothing else, that would make a hilarious Youtube clip.

  6. 6
    slc1

    I would agree that the coverage of the conventions is a waste of resources by the lamestream media. At least, the networks no longer carry gavel to gavel coverage as they did 50 years ago, when actual news events sometimes occurred at conventions.

    However, I do think that the networks have a responsibility to carry the acceptance speeches of the presidential and vice-presidential nominees of both parties. This would not require a vast media presence.

  7. 7
    Michael Heath

    I was surprisingly underwhelmed at the quality of Condi Rice’s speech, which I was able to get ahold of and read via written transcript from NPR rather than having to suffer through watching it get delivered. And that was the only speech I deign to consider.

  8. 8
    abb3w

    Maybe send some investigative journalists in, instead of the usual transcribers?

  9. 9
    slc1

    Re Michael Heath @ #7

    was surprisingly underwhelmed at the quality of Condi Rice’s speech, which I was able to get ahold of and read via written transcript from NPR rather than having to suffer through watching it get delivered. And that was the only speech I deign to consider

    As I stated in talkback #6, the networks have a responsibility to carry the acceptance speeches of the presidential and vice-presidential candidates. That doesn’t mean that I or Heath or Mr. Brayton have any such responsibility to listen to them or read transcripts of them.

  10. 10
    slc1

    Re abb3u @ #8

    Are there any investigative reporters at the lamestream media any more?

  11. 11
    Akira MacKenzie

    Are there any investigative reporters at the lamestream media any more?

    Only if your definition of “investigative journalism” includes the hacks on the six-o-clock news who jump out of bushes and chase pederasts with a camera or the ones who play public health vigilante by checking the mayonnaise at the local sandwich shop for salmonella.

  12. 12
    Rowan vet-tech

    I work at a veterinary hospital, and the RNC happened to be on the TV. I’m used to… well… animal shows at an animal hospital so I pondered aloud why it was on.

    A client responded “For the comedy factor?”

    I could have hugged her.

  13. 13
    wholething

    They could also point to the honest vs. dishonest claims made at the conventions.

  14. 14
    typecaster

    At the end of the two conventions, simply point to the important stories that came out of the conventions. Good luck with that.

    Well, it’s not completely impossible. For instance, things like this might happen.

  15. 15
    Spanish Inquisitor

    I generally find the conventions boring. They are pre-determined in outcomes, so there is no suspense whatsoever. They are an opportunity for the two parties to get their “heavy hitters’ to give speeches on national TV during election season in prime time without having to pay advertising rates to do so.

    For the (R)NC I tried an experiment. The first night, Tuesday, I watched everything from about 8 PM on , via MSNBC. I’m predisposed as a liberal, but I found the coverage informative and even thought provoking. I see that some people are complaining that MSNBC kept breaking away from various speeches (the minor ones – I watched Ann Romney and Gov. Christie from beginning to end), and they did, but they seemed to make a conscious decision that color analysis was better than simply placing a camera on a speaker. I tend to agree.

    Last night I watched the same time period through the FOX lens, and found the experience remarkably different. FOX allowed just about every speaker the full time of their speech, with comments in between. (Pawlenty was insipid, for example. No wonder Romney passed over him for Veep.) However, I likened the experience to watching Disney cover a circus. “Oh, look, lions! and trapeze artists! Aren’t they wonderful?” Very little analysis, but a lot of unquestioning gushing and praise. In effect, very little substance both in the speeches and in the coverage. The only criticism I saw was near the end of Chris Wallace’s wrap up of Ryan’s speech, where he actually mentioned that people on other channels might point out that the GM plant closing in his home town, that Ryan seemed to blame Obama for, was actually closed during Bush’s term. Seemed like he was trying to head off the charge that he was not a real journalist.

    I think tonight I might use CNN or NBC.

  16. 16
    Reginald Selkirk

    Maybe instead of broadcasting the GOP convention, they could just show the Art of Lying.

  17. 17
    savagemutt

    I think they’re hoping for a replay of 1968′s Democratic Convention. Nowadays that would get some serious round-the-clock coverage – the protesters camped in the park, police brutality, the local mayor going batshit crazy at the podium, reporters getting beat up…

    Ah, the good old days.

  18. 18
    d cwilson

    I was surprisingly underwhelmed at the quality of Condi Rice’s speech, which I was able to get ahold of and read via written transcript from NPR rather than having to suffer through watching it get delivered. And that was the only speech I deign to consider.

    That’s funny, because she’s down near Palin or Louis “Terror Babies” Ghomert on the list of speeches I don’t need to bother with. She was probably the single most incompetent SoS and National Security Advisor in my living memory.

  19. 19
    aluchko

    Frankly I find the discussion of the $60 million misleading because at the end of the day news organizations are covering this because they figure they’ll make enough money to fund that coverage. As for value of the coverage, there’s probably nothing new that’s going to come out, but it’s the party’s best chance to deliver and elaborate on its message and proposals and is probably one of the better opportunities to do meaningful analysis, whether they media will do that of course is another matter.

  20. 20
    lpetrich

    Here’s what I call the two parties’ conventions.

    Coronations.

    Because that’s what they have degenerated into.

    I was VERY disappointed that the other candidates did not get enough delegates to deny Mitt Romney a majority. That would have resulted in a brokered convention — and the most interesting convention in *decades*. Think of all the drama llama. Floor fights. Backroom deals. Smoke-filled rooms. All we get is squabbles between the party leaders and the Ron Paul groupies — how pale.

  21. 21
    Ichthyic

    It’s fun to be there, in the pack

    authoritarianism ftw.

  22. 22
    Ichthyic

    She was probably the single most incompetent SoS and National Security Advisor in my living memory.

    yup.

    on par with James Watt as Secretary of Interior during Reagan.

    I still rank that as the worst govt. appointee in history.

  23. 23
    Ichthyic

    I think tonight I might use CNN or NBC.

    I think tonight I’ll cut my eyeballs with razor blades.

    you seriously like to torture yourself.

  24. 24
    Spanish Inquisitor

    you seriously like to torture yourself.

    I couldn’t do it. I stuck with MSNBC last night, and in the end fell asleep during Romney’s speech. I tried, but damn that man, talking, is better and more effective than Ambien.

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