Reporters: Why are you in Tampa?

I challenge every journalist in Tampa for the Republican convention — every one of the 15-16,000 of you — to answer this:
* Why are you there?
* What will we learn from you?
* What actual reporting can you possibly do that delivers anything of value more than the infomercial — light on the info, heavy on the ‘mercial — that the conventions have become?
* Would you be better off back at home covering voters and their issues?
* Can we in the strapped news business afford this luxury?

Figure that those 15k journos spend $300 a night each on a hotel room times five nights, plus $500 for transportion. That’s $2,000. And I’m figuring they’ll be slurping up free meals and drinks. So $2,000 is probably (pardon me) conservative. That’s $30,000,000. Now multiply that times two conventions. That’s $60,000,000.

Why? For what?

Note that even while newspapers and news organizations have shrunken drastically, we are sending the same number of journalists to the conventions that we sent in 2008 and 2004.

Why? Editorial ego: It’s fun to be there, in the pack. It’s fun for a paper or station to say, “We have our man/woman in Tampa/Charlotte.” Well goody for you.

It’s a waste.

Take that $60,000,000 and divide it by a fully loaded labor cost of, say, $100,000 per head and it would pay for 600 reporters for a year. At $50,000 for a hyperlocal reporter, we’d get 1,200 towns covered — more than Patch! What could they do versus what you will do in Tampa and Charlotte transcribing marketing messages and horrid memes?

Or we could pay for Homicide Watch 1,500 times over, instead of just paying attention to a shooting that happens where tourists wander.

Those 15,000 journos will — three-to-one — cover 2,286 delegates (6,000 for those spendthrift Democrats) wearing funny hats, saying nothing new.

At least 3,775 newspaper jobs were lost last year; 39,806 since mid-2007; one in three newsroom jobs have been eliminated since 1989. How’s that make you feel, convention press corps?

We can see whatever we want to see on C-SPAN (and I don’t begrudge the networks for giving us America’s Got Talent instead of the conventions since at least AGT has surprises; the conventions are scripted).

Commentary? There’ll be more than we can possibly use this year on Twitter and Google+ and blogs and everywhere. We don’t need to pundits’ palaver. Citizens will comment this year.

So enjoy yourself, hacks. You’re living off the last dollars of your business. And for what? Tradition? Where has that gotten us?

Please prove me wrong. In a week, show me the amazing reporting we couldn’t have gotten if you weren’t there.

  • Fred Miller

    Cogent points and I agree. A counter point brings the degree to which our government is broken into focus. This is the system that cultivates the environment for politics. Reporters could ask politicians if they would adopt ethics rules requiring them to recuse themselves on votes affecting campaign contributors. They could ask about particular votes and what motivated their position. How much did contributors affect their position? What is wrong with government: a. money is not speech, b. bribery has been institutionalized, c. winning is too important and good governance is secondary, d. district gerrymandering creates extreme politicians because they only have to win primaries. Reports establishing these facts in the context of conventions is essential to young folks’ futures.

    Local coverage of murders is not helpful. Journalist don’t use social science science in their stories. Stories are mostly anecdotal stories with no science context. Local coverage is mostly banal and useless. Our local paper is 20% trials. We know what crimes are being prosecuted. According the editorial pages government and regulation are the causes of all problems. Stories like CNN Next, CNN Heroes or TWIT triangulation show the positive work in community. You should focus more on the content than the media.

    • anamax

      > Reporters could ask politicians if they would adopt ethics rules requiring them to recuse themselves on votes affecting campaign contributors.
      Ah yes, because there’s nothing more informative than reporters playing gotcha selectively.
      > a. money is not speech
      Oh really? The NYT spends money to elect candidates. How is my money any different? There were broadway plays about killing Bush, so how is a movie about Clinton unacceptable? (That movie was the subject of Citizens United.)
      BTW – Which news organizations reported how MSNBC didn’t cover “speakers of color”?

  • http://www.chrisamico.com Chris Amico

    Jeff, thanks for the plug for Homicide Watch. The site has been run by two people, only one full time, for two years without funding. We’ve covered every murder, from crime to conviction, and maintained the most complete database of homicides in DC (including suspects and case outcomes). The community that has grown around the site has been amazing, truly different from any other news site I’ve worked on.

  • http://www.facebook.com/ryanholiday Ryan Holiday

    Where are you every six months when bloggers and journalists show up for an orgiastic Apple event?

    • http://www.seandfrancis.com Sean D. Francis

      I think you missed the point.

      • Yah hoy

        How so?

    • http://www.stealthmode.com hardaway

      Same thing. Convention is a metaphor for “journalists have become sheep.” And thanks so much for the books. Will be talking to my class about it:-)

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100000267978284 Jayla Smith

    I truly do not have much to say except as I read your blog, It caused me to think more on an issue that I hadn’t before. I thank you for opening my eyes at least to another way $$ is wasted in our country. So much money…..not enough love. JMHO

  • http://www.facebook.com/jack.burman.9 Jack Burman

    Maybe if advertisers were a little more selective on where and how they spent their dollars, they might be able to make a difference.

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  • http://www.facebook.com/stevejfox Steve Fox

    Jeff — I don’t agree with everything you write but you’re dead-on here. Fascinating that I re-posted on FB and Twitter and folks are arguing with me. Better that news orgs take all this money spent on a manipulated event and spend it on truth-squadding campaign ads….
    Thanks,
    Steve

  • http://www.facebook.com/markdrapeau Mark Drapeau

    I will be covering the geeky side of the conventions for Microsoft’s site Publicyte.com — gadgets people are using, policy events about education and other public sector issues, how Microsoft technologies like Xbox and Skype are being deployed here, entrepneurs working in the politics space. I know I’m not a traditional journo but that’s what I’ll be doing here.

  • http://twitter.com/ccoc Colin Crawford

    Jeff, you are correct – it’s a lemmings mentality – they have to be there because all their colleagues are there and it’s the way it has been done in the past – maybe the really good reporters will find a way to meet the right people, get behind the curtain and ask the important questions but they will be a small minority – the rest will just serve up the sanitized sound bites. The whole thing is media circus. I hope you do a follow-up analysis after the events to see if there really was any amazing reporting.

    • http://twitter.com/ccoc Colin Crawford

      I’ve helping out Tout.com – a twitter for video platform. We have a team member embedded with the Romney campaign plus a number of imminent announcements regarding several major news outlets who will be using the platform for the coverage of conventions. It will be very interesting to see how well the short video format works in engaging audiences for the political events. We have seen it work extremely well for brands such as WWE – maybe there are some similarities with the election contest !

  • Karen Callaway

    Well, everyone has to KNOW I like this!!!!

    And, Jeff–thanks for writing it. I expect you’ll change the name and dateline and repost it for the Democratic convention.

    P.S. Barbara Mahany posted it on Facebook; I borrowed and reposted.

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  • Steve Baker

    The only reporting I’d be even slightly interested in reading would be of the gonzo variety, exposing and exploring the various social and political ills that the conventions embody. Then again, I might not read such covering, because I have a sick feeling I already know and understand these convention dynamics all too well.

  • james

    You’re totally right, maybe except for the slurping up free meals and drinks. Probably not much of that with this mean crowd that wouldn’t give away a drink of water.

  • http://twitter.com/SpaceyG SpaceyG

    Oh let the kids have a good time while they can. I wish I was 31 again. And covering a political convention AND a hurricane at the same time. http://spaceyg.tumblr.com/post/9428751004/old-field-producers-hurricane-coverage-survival-tips

  • nitpick0r

    Jeff, a typo alert: “transportion”

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  • Morlock

    Democracy Now! is showing how good reporting can be at the times of the conventions. They report on the conventions, but also on people’s issues and political “outsiders” like Ron Paul and the Green Party.

  • pd

    strike!

  • http://www.facebook.com/marcel.brindoepke Marcel Brindöpke

    Jeff, As a German I cannot understand that Presidential Hype anyway, as the democratic aspects are washed away by the question who can collect more money. Anyway, I totally agree with you how stupid it is to send so many reporters there. I only hope the report so much that political awareness stays up – a problem we face over here as we are all tired of our politicians and tend not to show up on election days anymore.
    As an economist let me just point out, that obviously no money is wasted – its just spent unwisely, but its still there

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  • tomP

    Seems like 5-6 reporters would be plenty. I had no idea the US had this many reporters — on a given day, what are they doing? Lucky to find 3-4 stories of any depth on google aggregator.

    It has to be las vegas style booze and partying. A junket awarded by the boss in lieu of vacation time or pay raise. We had these in my profession as well (molecular biology). One time I went to a meeting in Miami. No news: 40,000 scientists giving simultaneous poster sessions or repeating in talks what they had already published in journals. I stayed at the Playboy mansion. That was an accepted venue for the meeting.

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  • bill

    I agree it is stupid to cover the conventions, but this says something about the media, they dumb down the news, and do not really respect the people

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  • http://twitter.com/dougom Douglas Moran

    I’ve been wondering about this for the last couple of weeks. What possible motive is there to send so many reporters to the two conventions? You could send less than 10 reporters and they would generate as much genuine news copy as the 15K that got sent. Because after all, how much news is actually going to occur? How many different ways can 3000 reporters write “Two racist bigots were ejected today”?

    It’s in-friggin’-sane.

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  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Toby-Nicholas-Saunders/46709144 Toby Nicholas Saunders

    It’s worth understanding that some people are working for money. They can neglect stories which bring in ratings & thus money, & then have less money. I’m not supporting the amount of coverage, but would like to keep it real: people have contracts to fulfill… if you don’t do your job, you’re fired, & so forth.

  • john

    Well, remember that all this money is directed to approx. 10% of all voters, the undecided’ s & independents!

  • http://twitter.com/CB333 Carson

    I love this site and I use a lot of your stuff in class but twitter is not your forum: reading your tweet feed while watching is like watching this at a home for old men where the only remaining facility is invective and slurs. It’s interesting to watch but after a while the bile makes it hard to endure. I know — I don’t have to read. I just wanted to — now I wonder. Anyway, to the site that prizes conversation, my end of it.

  • Tracey Eaton

    Great post, Jeff. I agree that swarming the political conventions with reporters is a huge waste of money. No doubt, local and regional media outlets try to cater their coverage to their audiences back home. In that sense, some may provide coverage not found anywhere else. But I would rather see the money go to investigative reporting in the public interest. Unfortunately, in a media world driven by page views, investigative stories may not be enough to trigger hits and draw advertising. Some people would rather see reality ‘stars’ screaming at each other or committing some terrible fashion faux pas instead. And the bean counters don’t care as long as the money rolls in.

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  • Lookingbeyond

    Do you mean none of you know about Democracy Now and the amazing coverage they give to every issue they cover?

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