Who needs a convention?

I’m amused at the vision of 15,000 journalists sitting with their thumbs up their asses in St. Paul yesterday with nothing to type while Gustav filled cable news. Without cable news, of course, there is no need to have a convention. Cable news is their raison d’être. That the Republicans can truncate their convention and the campaign still goes on is the best proof that conventions are meaningless and thus that journalists are wasting their time covering them.

That was the topic of my Guardian column this week, where I took the argument to the next level and said convention coverage is a symptom of another problem in journalism: We cover politics too much. Politics is the opiate of of journalism and it’s time to go to rehab. Snippet:

I’m sad to see that hundreds of bloggers have been co-opted to give more attention to these free adverts for the parties. I wish they found their own way and hadn’t joined the press mob. They, too, want to feel important. Like journalists, they want to be on the inside. But that’s not where either should want to be. I saw a party official crow that bloggers were just another means to get a message out. They’re being used.

The attention given to the conventions and campaigns is symptomatic of a worse journalistic disease: we over-cover politics and under-cover the actions of our governments. We over-cover politicians and under-cover the lives and needs of citizens. . . .

We assume that covering politics is high public service. But too often it amounts to covering celebrity, except that political stars have less talent and worse wardrobes than real stars. There’s little difference between camping out at the end of Joe Biden’s driveway, as the press did, to learn nothing after Barack Obama picked him as his running mate, and staking out Britney Spears when she heads out for burgers. At least she may do something unpredictable.

We don’t need the press to tell us what the politicians say; we can watch it ourselves on the web. We don’t need pundits to tell us what to think; we can blather as they do on our blogs. The rise of mass media – primetime TV – ensured that conventions would never surprise again: they became free commercials. The internet then took away the last reasons to devote journalistic resources to the events – there’s nothing we can’t see and judge on our own.

This is all the worse in the US since our elections never end, and we have a half-dozen networks with hours to fill and hundreds of newspapers that apparently still have a few too many people with not enough to do. But, anywhere, it’s worth asking whether we spend too much covering politics and too little covering the rest of life.