For most political coverage, log on to tune in
Posted September 2, 2012
If you really want to follow the political conventions, switch screens. Your computer has way more coverage than your TV.
Broadcast networks show a minimum of convention coverage. Cable networks provide several hours' worth each night. But both are outgunned by vast amounts of live-streamed coverage online. Click around and you can find everything from gavel-to-gavel floor "action" to wonky policy briefings, panel discussions and delegate interviews.
ABC News and Yahoo, for instance, as part of a news partnership, have a four-hour nightly live stream on their websites with analysis and commentary, as do other news outlets including Bloomberg, CBS News, Politico and USA TODAY. On television, only C-SPAN, which shows unedited live coverage of all convention sessions and many ancillary events, comes close to matching what is available online, and even C-SPAN shows more online than it does on its broadcasts. Online coverage of a marathon Ron Paul rally last week in Tampa started at noon, for instance, while C-SPAN's TV coverage didn't start until three hours later.
"Ultimately, everything in Tampa (was) being live-streamed by somebody," C-SPAN spokesman Howard Mortman said.
At previous conventions, live online video "was always seen as an experiment, an add-on," says Andrew Morse, head of Bloomberg TV, which is showing live online video of its panel discussions. Now, "it can't be an afterthought; it has to be central to everything you do. People expect it."
"If we want to be relevant, we have to be live-streamed," says Ron Fournier, editor of National Journal, the political news site that is streaming daily panel discussion on energy, health care policy and the role of social media in politics.
Live streaming has even arrived on Radio Row, the alley of radio booths that are a prime gathering place at political conventions as elected officials and party functionaries hop from microphone to microphone. "Everything's visual now," says Dan Ochsner, a talker on KNSI in St. Cloud, Minn., who had a camera set up at his booth in Tampa. Nearby, the conservative website WatchdogWire.com live-streamed its interviews as well as scenes of the surrounding crowds. "This is cinéma vérité— we show the sausage being made," said the site's Tom Trento.
For viewers, the expanded coverage provides a much more comprehensive picture of what goes on at a political convention — for good or ill. TheWall Street Journal, for instance, posted video of Mitt Romney's motorcade leaving the Tampa airport after his arrivals and an interview with Vermin Supreme, a quirky presidential candidate who wears a boot on his head. USA TODAY is streaming interviews with elected officials and political leaders. PBS NewsHour, which covers the convention on air nightly, is also streaming interviews and discussion throughout the day, from interviews with commentators David Brooks and Mark Shields to a look at the "swag bag" of pamphlets and trinkets given out at the convention.
For the political parties, the proliferation of coverage means welcome opportunities to send surrogates to deliver the party message. James Davis, communications director for the Republican convention, said he used to dedicate a staffer to each TV network to book surrogates as on-air guests. "Now, it's like you ask them if this is for TV or if this is for their Twitter feed, or if this is for a live-streaming partnership that they have. It's not enough to say, 'I'm from ABC.' No, you're ABC-Yahoo. You're from Politico-and-C-SPAN. There's all these partnerships for all this streaming content, and that creates more of a need for content news coverage."
For media companies, live-streamed coverage is a way to try to keep, or expand, audiences. "Like everyone else, we're experimenting to see how big of an audience you can build when you take your journalism and translate it into video and analysis," says Jim VandeHei, executive editor of Politico.
But building audiences is one thing and figuring how to make money from new forms of media is another.
"That's the great experimental question of the day for media," VandeHei says. "And no one has cracked that code."
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