The media gets convention coverage backward

August 28, 2012

Responding to the networks' decision to air only one hour of the conventions for three nights (rather than four), Alyssa Rosenberg comments, "Given that the conventions are staged campaign events rather than places where events are actually decided, it makes sense that the networks (and the rest of the media, for that matter) should exert judgment."


Photo: Washington Post

I disagree. In fact, I think the media covers the conventions backward. We're sending 15,000 journalists to an event where, by and large, no real news is going to happen. It's a ridiculous use of journalistic talent. A party convention isn't where you need people skilled at gathering and uncovering new information.

But the fact that modern conventions rarely surprise doesn't mean that they're not important. Conventions are the moments when political parties come together and spend a sustained period of time making their case. They put their best speakers on the podium, plot out their best arguments, and then turn on the mike. And the public should hear them. Yes, that means listening to talking points, boilerplate rhetoric and, unfortunately, some lies, and the media should work to help the public put what they're hearing into context. But they should hear it.

One problem in the media is that we sometimes confuse what's good for us with what's good for the country, or at least important for the country. Conventions are no longer particularly good for us, even though we still like to go. But they are important for the country. The result is that we send too many journalists to the conventions, but the networks, in particular, don't carry nearly enough of the conventions. Sometimes, the media should exert a bit less judgment about what is and isn't newsworthy and just sit back and let the public decide for themselves.

You shouldn't have 15,000 journalists covering the Republican National Convention. But you should have cameras, backed by real airtime, sitting there, never blinking, letting the rest of the country hear what the people vying to lead want the voters to know.

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