New Media Change How Political Conventions are Covered

Yesterday’s New York Times, in an article by David Carr entitled “In Denver, A Thousand Little Pieces,” examined how the “new media” changed the coverage of the event:

The numbers are changing the game. Old media have often (not always) regarded bloggers and their ilk as fleas on the dog. If newspapers and networks didn’t break the story, the gatecrashers wouldn’t have anything to write about. But the new media players who came to Denver were not there just to annotate mainstream coverage: they’re in the hunt themselves.

The cable television blabbers still put a frame around the event, and the morning analysis pieces in The Washington Post and The New York Times continue to generate pickup and chatter, but the picture that emerged from this convention was also rendered in a thousand other pixels of coverage.

But bloggers didn’t just bring their own new perspectives to the coverage; they also spurred the mainstream media to more activity:

Mainstream media outlets are meeting the insurgency with guerrilla tactics of their own, with major newspapers using huge reporting assets to infuse the 24-hour news cycle with deep reporting and videos.

“You had mainstream reporters wandering around with video cameras, and bloggers doing a lot of original reporting and everything in between,” said Arianna Huffington. “At a convention, it is the little pieces that complete the puzzle, and you had all of these sources of input here.”

And just as CNN created the 24-hour news cycle a generation ago, bloggers have put pressure on the traditional media to ramp up the intensity of their activity. No more sleepy convention mornings:

Just four years ago, the big white tents at the conventions that housed the media hordes would come to life slowly, with stories from the night before being passed around along with articles from the daily press. Now reporters and editors jack in when they wake up and stay there.

“It used to be you could sort of take it easy in the morning and chat over lunch and then maybe start to fire up some stories by midafternoon,” said John F. Harris, editor in chief of Politico and a veteran of The Washington Post. “At this convention, our reporters work from 8 in the morning until midnight.”

On paragraph of the article highlighted a different ethic of bloggers as compared to mainstream media, and one in which the latter are found wanting:

Politico had a particularly nice run this week, setting up the convention with the McCain housing crisis, detailing some of the sniping between the Clinton and Obama camps and suggesting that Karl Rove made every effort to kill the possibility that Joe Lieberman, the Democrat turned independent, would be nominated for vice president.

Whereas any blogger in this case would link directly to the referenced stories on Politico, such as its Rove-Lieberman piece, the Times‘ links to Rove and Lieberman were to their bio pages on the site. I believe there are two major reasons for this linking policy:

  • The “Just Trust Me” Factor – For more than a century, newspapers and other mainstream media had a monopoly on reporting, and had no need or ability to facilitate people checking their work. Journalists were the “synthesizers,” and it never even entered their minds that to show the original source material so their readers could see for themselves.
  • The “Hold onto the Eyeballs” Factor – Given their economic difficulties, it seems many media outlets have a policy that they don’t link to external sites, to avoid losing page views. The Times isn’t alone in this; The Washington Post, for instance, does the same thing.

Whatever the reason, one thing that’s clear is that the journalists and their editors aren’t giving primary consideration to the interests of their readers.

Carr closes with examination of a for-profit reprise of the PBS slogan — “If We Don’t Do It, Who Will?”

As reporting staffs at newspapers are cut, journalists have spoken of the threat that important civic issues — say, for instance, the first major party nomination of a black candidate — would go undercovered. But almost anyone who wanted to know anything about what was going in Denver could find it somewhere.

“I’m certainly preparing Daily Kos for the day when Internet and television are one and the same,” said Markos Moulitsas, the founder of Daily Kos, which estimated its traffic at 37 million page views for the busy month of August. “One of our jobs is to wrestle as much of that away from them as possible. A few gatekeeping elites shouldn’t be allowed that much influence.”

Traditionally trained journalists have contributed powerfully to this country’s common good, and can continue playing a huge role in the future, particularly as they take advantage of the potential of “crowdsourcing.” But as the national political conventions show, they no longer have the field completely to themselves.

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