Convention-goers can visit the vast Bloomberg Link lounge for the breakfast buffet or a quick nap, or pep up with a free cafe latte or cappuccino at Google’s well-appointed bar.
Media organizations aren’t just covering this year’s political conventions, they’re adding to the festivities, with elaborate hospitality venues and parties designed to capture attention for themselves and curry favor among the nation’s political elite. At a time of broad economic distress and retrenchment in many parts of the media, some news organizations have spent considerable sums on parties, freebies and showy extras during the gatherings.
Media executives say the investment is worthwhile, that entertaining political elites (as well as members of the media) pays off in intangible goodwill and favorable word of mouth. “It’s been incredibly successful” in raising awareness of the HuffingtonPost’s health and lifestyle coverage, said Arianna Huffington of her company’s massage venue, whose visitors on Tuesday included House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (Calif.), she said.
Given its traditional role as a watchdog of the powerful, the media’s desire to party with the parties raises a question or two. In particular, how does schmoozing the ruling class square with reporters’ supposed vows of neutrality and independence? Are news organizations much different in this regard from the corporations and trade groups that are rolling out social events for Democrats and Republicans?
The media’s coziness with its sources predates political conventions. Several organizations, including Vanity Fair and Bloomberg News, host invitation-only soirees during the annual White House Correspondents’ Dinner, which has been criticized as an elitist and insider affair.
The conventions provide another schmoozing opportunity. Buzzfeed, a scrappy and popular news Web site, laid out $20,000 for a party at the Tampa Aquarium during last week’s Republican convention. The event featured women in mermaid costumes swimming in water tanks and live penguins being wheeled around in plexiglass carts. The aquarium party was virtually identical to one thrown at the same location two days earlier by the Distilled Spirits Council of America, the liquor industry’s leading trade group.
Buzzfeed will spend a similar amount on a party for Democrats at Charlotte’s Discovery Place, this one featuring turtles and iguanas.
“We want people to know who we are and what we’re up to,” said Ben Smith, the Web site’s editor in chief. “This is all about branding and marketing” the site to people who follow political news. Just as the political parties are shaping their identities at the convention, he said, so, too, are the media.