Papers Plan Strategy for National Political Conventions

Article excerpt

The national political conventions later this summer promise little in the way of possible surprises. The Republican nominee has been known for months, and while some in the media once harbored hope for a brokered Democratic confab, the most exciting part of that event likely will be Barack Obama's acceptance speech, which instead of being held at the Pepsi Center in Denver will be staged at Invesco Field at Mile High, the 76,000-seat home of the football Broncos.

Despite this, many top newspapers have committed to covering the climax of the nominating process with the same gusto that was shown during the primary season. But why? "Conventions are very important civic rituals," says Michael Tackett, the Chicago Tribune's Washington bureau chief. "Our role is to help foster civic engagement in those rituals, because it's important who the next President of the United States is going to be."

Robert Rankin, government and politics editor for McClatchy Newspapers, predicts it will be "exciting." After all, he notes, "we're in the midst of a war, a recession, 80% of the country thinks we're on the wrong track ... just because the nominees are known doesn't make it less interesting."

Adds Andy Alexander, Washington Bureau Chief for Cox Newspapers: "The fact that they are giant TV events doesn't mean they're not worth covering."

This time around, newspapers plan to cover the conventions in ways that seemed unimaginable eight years ago. The most obvious sign of change is the number of papers that have embraced -- and now emphasize -- blogging. Doyle McManus, Washington Bureau Chief for the Los Angeles Times, says, "I think that four years ago, newspapers were very tentative and uncertain as to whether blogging was something we ought to do at all."

Now, McManus is a believer. Two of the most popular newspaper political blogs in the country come from Tribune newspapers: the Chicago Tribune's "The Swamp" and the L.A. Times' "Top of the Ticket" blog, which McManus says has been the paper's "most successful blog all year, even more than the [Los Angeles] Lakers blog."

The men behind "Top of the Ticket" are veteran Times reporters Andrew Malcolm and Don Frederick. The idea, as presented to senior editors in the early spring of '07, Malcolm explains, "was to have a virtually 'round-the-clock blog with one man in D.C. and one in L.A. writing on a wide-ranging array of unpredictable subjects ... to explain the political process in an unpredictable way, with some attitude." According to Malcolm's numbers, "Top of the Ticket" attracted 2.68 million views in May 2008 alone.

So what do Frederick, Malcolm, and their editors have on tap for the conventions? Videos, live chats, interviews with leaders and celebrities, "anything we can think of," says Malcolm. The paper will also have a full-time videographer on hand and likely will contribute to Tribune's television coverage. Malcolm will cover the GOP confab in St. Paul, while Frederick will head to Denver.

Malcolm's agenda is typical of the methods other reporters will employ to help bolster their papers' coverage. "We will be somewhat more focused on covering the conventions on the Web," says Richard Stevenson, political editor for The New York Times. "Having a real-time update system will allow us to cover other aspects of the convention, rather than taking that single snapshot for the daily paper."

"It's simply a given that we will have a robust online presence," agrees Andy Alexander at Cox. "Most of our writers will be blogging and doing video from both conventions with intensely localized coverage. …