Campaigns' 24/7 Cyber-Coverage

Article excerpt

The presidential campaigns move into the fast lanes on the information superhighway as dot-com mania offers high-octane coverage of upcoming political conventions.

While the speeches and events of this year's presidential nominating conventions may seem depressingly familiar, the way the public receives coverage of the conventions will be markedly different. As the major TV networks continue to reduce their once-comprehensive coverage, the dot-com world is more than picking up the slack. Indeed, just as more than a half-century ago the infant medium of television made its presence felt at the GOP convention in Philadelphia, this year's gathering may mark the point where U.S. politics definitely became part of the cyber-community.

The excitement surrounding the plethora of Websites devoted to convention coverage temporarily may overshadow a larger, more basic question: Will journalists become mere "content providers"? Earlier this summer, Larry Pryor, executive editor of Online Journalism Review, observed that "the narrow definition of news -- the classic paradigm of a reporter kicking up new information that then is tailored by an editor and sent, wrapped in ads, to a reader or viewer/listener -- doesn't work online."

But the new media keep coming. America Online, or AOL, is the main portal to news on the Internet for 22 million households. At a June press conference, Kathleen deLaski, director of political programming for AOL, said that "as the television networks scale back their coverage of the political conventions, we are stepping up convention programming, offering our members new ways to engage in the political process."

Indeed, the new ways of the new media will not be an online reprise of television. "We are not doing television," Jeanne Meyer of the Pseudo Online Network tells Insight. "We are not doing what the networks do and squeezing it onto a small video stream." Pseudo's "unconventional" convention coverage will offer seven audio and visual streams, including 360-degree-angle cameras that will allow viewers to "travel" the convention hall. However, Meyer says this will only constitute around one-third of the Website's convention experience. "We're covering it in a very immersive way, gavel to gavel."

AOL, the behemoth of new media which pioneered online convention coverage in 1996, will again be present at both conventions; AOL and the Pseudo Online Network are the first Internet companies to obtain the megamedia status symbol of a convention skybox. AOL will broadcast video and audio feeds of the proceedings, live interviews with newsmakers, "Delegate Diaries" consisting of firsthand accounts by delegates, interactive polls and chatrooms for viewers and convention participants.

Pseudo's Website, www.pseudopolitics.com, is an interesting amalgam of the new media. The convention coverage is being handled by a journalistic team heavy with print and TV experience. The coverage is led by Pseudo's chief executive officer, David Bohrman, who oversaw floor coverage for ABC at four conventions. Veterans of CNN, MSNBC, the New York Post and Comedy Central also will serve the Pseudo team.

And as that list indicates, the new medium is utilizing some gimmicks unknown to news organizations of old. Earlier this month, Pseudo viewers selected young correspondents from lists submitted by the Young Republicans, the Young Democrats and Youth Vote 2000, who will join the Pseudo team for the convention. Pseudo will coproduce a show at each convention with the political monthly magazine George and a nightly hour of commentary with the New York Observer. And, as with most online coverage, viewers will be invited to participate. "The chat audience will be invited in to `puncture the punditry,' says Meyer.

Traditional powerhouses such as PBS' Newshour and WashingtonPost.com again will offer convention coverage. The plethora of online coverage is dazzling, and to some perhaps puzzling, but political junkies who once would have glued themselves to network coverage need somewhere to get their fix. …