Media Engaging in Unconventional Review of Coverage: Reassess News Value, Cost Concerns
Billingsley, K. L., The Washington Times (Washington, DC)
SAN DIEGO - The national media, especially television networks, are rethinking their coverage of political conventions because, as Ted Koppel put it just before leaving town, "nothing surprising is anticipated."
"Ted Koppel may have been the domino," said Andrew Rosenthal, Washington bureau chief of the New York Times. Mr. Koppel, host of ABC-TV's "Nightline," departed after declaring the carefully stage-managed Republican National Convention "more of an `infomercial' than a news event."
"We will be a long way behind that," Mr. Rosenthal said. But he acknowledged his newspaper had some "hard thinking" to do about the convention, where the Times has 12 reporters and more than 30 other staffers.
The question of handling a highly staged convention was already a hot topic at CBS, especially given the high cost and difficulty of covering such events, said communications director Sandy Genelius.
"Everyone will be rethinking it," she said. "Who knows what the broadcast universe will look like in four years?"
NBC convention chief Bill Wheatley rolled his eyes when asked about the dismal convention ratings.
"There is very little news here," he said. "And the media are increasingly annoyed with the political parties for attempting to be totally manipulative."
William Kristol of the conservative Weekly Standard, which is publishing daily convention editions, predicts San Diego 1996 will be the last prime-time convention.
"In the future, it will be handled like a primary, with half-an-hour of television coverage late in the evening." That situation, he said, would favor media that provide more analysis.
Here, network television is at a disadvantage, said Tom Hannon, news director for CNN.
"Pictures always override words, so the scales are tilted in favor of those staging the event," he said. "We will have to give it a lot of thought as to what we can do to make sense of it for the people watching."
With the convention already likened to watching a train arrive on time, others searched for appropriate metaphors to describe the made-for-television event.
"This is the Super Bowl without the game," said CNN talk-show host Larry King.
But at least one TV executive wondered whether it is really a network's job to determine the newsworthiness of an event and whether "nothing surprising is anticipated."
"Does a sports division not cover a football game because it is a boring game?" asked Howard Polskin of CNN, where ratings are down 10 percent from convention coverage in 1992. …