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,, 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 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. And as the political world turns increasingly cyber, the parties are striving to keep up with the media outlets. Both Democrats and Republicans are offering 24-hour, 7-day access to their conventions via the Web; looking cyber-confident has become a necessary public-relations ploy, if nothing else. Apparently, to be contemporary you have to show that you are dot-com literate.

In Los Angeles, Democrats meeting at the Staples Center can conduct virtually all their business online. Internet phones and e-mail will be available to all delegates, who will cast their votes at interactive kiosks throughout the convention floor. Video feeds featuring backstage interviews and C-SPAN analysis will be available., the private company that managed the Arizona Democratic presidential primary earlier this year -- the first legally binding political election held over the Internet -- will tally the votes. Results will be sent to the Democratic convention's Website and around the world immediately.

Those who don't require constant saturation also will have many options. National Journal's Hotline, an invaluable source for political reporters inside the Washington Beltway will join forces with MSNBC for its online coverage. Hotline TV will offer hourly Webcast updates continuously each convention day from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m.

Hotline's founder, former political consultant Doug Bailey, is now president of FreedomChannel, which will highlight "cyber-keynote" speeches by elected officials, activists, delegates and observers at the conventions. "Our digital-video studio will be in Internet Alley in Philadelphia and Internet Avenue in L.A., allowing candidates and convention-goers to make their own personal cyber-keynote speech for all the world to see -- all for free," says political director Kelly Collis. "Anyone and everyone is invited to come by our booth and tape"

This populist outpouring will be complemented at each convention by special media panels on "Politics and the Internet," sponsored by, where online journalists will show they enjoy talking about themselves nearly as much as their print and television brethren., a catchall Website for students and practitioners of politics, will not have any live coverage but will feature a reporter posting at every day, as well as a "roving reporter" covering the active convention nightlife. And in a mischievous touch, they plan on having a congressional challenger follow an incumbent of the opposite party at each convention. "We get the feeling it's not a place where people are going to be able to get a lot of work done," says Kurt Ehrenberg,'s managing editor.

The major utility of at the convention, however, will be as a combination database and online traffic cop for online viewers. "One thing we are planning on being is the place that organizes all the other convention sites for you" says Ehrenberg. "It will be really easy to start there."

Ehrenberg adds that will have numerous links to other Websites covering the conventions. These links already are up and running for those preparing for the Philadelphia gathering. "We have discussion areas from all state delegations, open and closed, and people can open up their own forums from our forums section where they can discuss what's happening, not only in their own states but in other states" he says.

"We feel our role on the Web is to be constantly telling people what they can find" says Ehrenberg. "It's kind of the Yahoo for politics."

And later this year, after the acrid campaign smoke has settled on the political battlefield, cyber-journalists will be able to get their own rewards in December. Columbia University, the home of the Pulitzer Prize and the National Magazine Awards, has established the Online Journalism Awards in conjunction with the Online News Association. The prizes "will help set the standards in the world for online journalism," said Tom Goldstein, dean of Columbia's journalism school, at the May press conference where the prizes were announced.

These new awards are for what Pryor, the director of the Online Program at the Annenberg School for Communication at the University of Southern California, calls a "fundamentally new paradigm." To survive, financially, he says, cyber-news "has to come in a sophisticated bundle of news, services and e-commerce." Which is why the media coverage of this year's conventions may ultimately be of equal or greater importance than the political verbiage that it transmits.

Mark Davis, James Harder and Jay Lyles assisted with this report.


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