Editor's Cut: Is convention coverage working on the Web?
by Ryan Monceaux, Editor In Chief
PHILADELPHIA - Okay, so I am not really in Philly. But I did go to Texadelphia over the weekend, the Texas-styled Philly Cheesesteak place here in Houston. It wasn't bad ... if you're into photos of LBJ on the wall and barbeque sauce on your sourdough.
It seems I am the only Net journalist not in Philadelphia covering the Republican National Convention. Everywhere you turn ... on every site you see ... there's this bit of news on George Dubyah or Colin Powell or the conservatives' second coming, Ronald Reagan. In 1996, when AOL was practically the only online service to cover these conventions, seems eons ago. AOL was relegated to sitting on the back of the bus, getting the same amount of respect from Republicans in San Diego as college newspapers did. But times, they are a-changin.
This year, 15,000 journalists have descended on the City of Brotherly Love, looking for a fresh news story in this, the most scripted of all primetime programming. What they're finding is none-too-surprising to me: nothing. At least a third of the media-types in Philly are Net related, from political junkie sites like grassroots.com and salon.com, to pseudo.com, the largest producer of television-Internet entertainment, to more established news organizations, such as ABCnews.com an MSNBC.com. Sam Donaldson, ABC's political headhunter, has made the Net one of his staple productions as he regularly stars in online chats and made-for-the-Net streaming video. ABC has made it a priority to become a major player in the online political world, and they've brought out their top gun, Donaldson, to ensure they at least get a little play.
So what does the expanded coverage on the Net mean for this year's conventions? Frankly, nothing. There is no excitement, no drama and no real action taking place in Philly, similar to what we'll find in two weeks when the Democrats meet in Los Angeles. The Republicans have prepared this meeting of the minds as a made-for-television event, and even though several Web sites have worked to make it as useful for their audience, it's just not working. There's no breaking news, which the online medium tends to better deliver, and about the only thing that these sites are doing better than the television networks are the real-time chats they arrange with some of the movers and shakers in Philadelphia.
Certainly these sites are making for a more-informed user, and possibly down the road, a more-informed voter. But is that going to be enough? Will Americans continue to flock to these political sites without an added bonus? Will the sites continue to provide extensive coverage of the conventions, especially if there is nothing of substance to report? Without the drama of live debate or at least some turmoil (which is the reason most of us who love politics fell in love with it in the first place), there's no reason to pay any attention to these conventions. The television networks are providing coverage of the most important speakers, but besides that, is there anything worthwhile in Philadelphia this week for the average American? The Magic 8-Ball tells me that all signs point to no.
Maybe next time around, in 2004, the political parties will learn to use this medium to it's advantage, allowing for debate on the floor on the convention, which would definitely be covered by most Web sites attending the convention. Maybe the candidates will open up to the idea that the Internet will make their job, getting out a political message, much easier.
Or, we'll just see another area of life, this time politics, underutilize the most powerful medium in the history of mankind.
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