Buzzfeed’s investment is modest compared with CNN’s spending on its news set and diner for the conventions. Buzzfeed reported that the cable network forked over $2 million to outfit its CNN Grill in Tampa. Sam Feist, CNN’s political director, said he did not know the exact cost, but suggested that it was a worthwhile investment, given that the diner is used as a backdrop for convention programming. “The idea is that people talk politics over meals,” he said. “Politics and food and drinks naturally mix in America.”
The Washington Post’s extracurricular activities at the conventions are relatively modest. The news organization has been hosting panel discussions about energy issues at both gatherings and “newsmaker” breakfasts that are streamed on its Web site. It also scheduled trivia events called Politics & Pints at a supper club in Tampa and a bar in Charlotte. The trivia events are sponsored by Norfolk Southern Corp.
Politico, meanwhile, has been sponsoring a nightly “lounge” near the conventions with free cocktails and appetizers for its guests. The lounge, called the Hub, is “presented by” BAE Systems, Coca-Cola, Diageo and Intel, four companies with a big stake in Washington’s policy debates.
A potentially awkward melding of journalists, politicians and lobbyists?
Politico doesn’t see it that way. “Every activity of our newsroom is supported, through advertising or subscriptions, and in the case of the Hub it is through advertising sponsors,”John Harris, Politico’s editor in chief, said via e-mail. “The same principle that applies to everything we do — the newsroom’s editorial agenda isn’t influenced by the work of our business team — holds true here. Our advertisers understand that, and our business team respects these lines.”
Indeed, Buzzfeed’s Smith thinks it’s possible for journalists to party with the people they cover, as long as everyone remembers where those lines are.
“In general, I’m more comfortable buying a drink for my sources than a source buying a drink for me,” he said. “The reason people are paying attention to us at this point is because we’ve broken a ton of news. That’s the real coin of the realm.”