Conventions, Coverage and Cash

   I’ll head to Denver in a week, to cover the Democratic convention from a South Florida perspective.  But the week after, I almost certainly won’t be in Minnesota when the Republicans meet to nominate John McCain.

   Why?  Money.  It’s a tough call, and one that news managers here at NBC 6 did not take lightly. 

   The original plan was to attend both conventions.  Then we priced it all out.  The cost of a work space, computer line, and video feed from NBC was about $12,000 per convention.  That’s before one considers air fare for myself and a photog, hotel costs, and those $100 meals we eat on the road (that’s a major joke– given coverage deadlines, we’re lucky to grab something hot and greasy from a drive-through lane).

   With TV ad revenues in a major slump, it was decided the station couldn’t afford to send a crew to both conventions.  We picked Denver.

   That’s bound to be controversial, bringing up charges of media favoritism, fascination with “celebrity”, etc.  The simple fact is– the nomination of a mixed-race candidate by a major party is an historic occasion.  That is why we’re headed for Denver but not (unless Charlie Crist is tabbed to be McCain’s running mate) to St. Paul.

   I suspect other media outlets may make that tough choice– everybody’s hurting budgetarily, newspapers perhaps even more than TV.  A friend who works for the San Jose Mercury-News told me he was going to cover the D’s but not the R’s, though he recently updated me– the paper’s figured out a way to be in St. Paul “on the cheap”, so it will send someone.  Finding a cheap way to cover a convention isn’t easy for TV– you have to have that work space and expensive video linkup.

   According to D & R convention spokespeople, the two parties expect roughly the same number of journalists/technicians at their respective conventions– about 15,000.  And the Democrats told me only one other english-language station from south Florida was credentialled to provide coverage in Denver.

   When the Republicans meet, we will have on-the-scene reporting from Steve Handelsman, the excellent Washington-based correspondent for NBC stations.  And, in an effort to provide local context, I’ll be working the late shift.  Armed with delegates’ cell-phone numbers, I’ll work south Florida angles, and trying to coax people to various NBC cameras set up in and around the convention hall. 

   Not perfect.  Some may argue we should travel to neither if we can’t travel to both.  We will work hard to ensure that dollars and distance don’t skew our convention coverage.

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