Cable Coverage From New Angles

Rosario Dawson's advocacy group helped Sí TV viewers select the pair who will cover the conventions.
Rosario Dawson's advocacy group helped Sí TV viewers select the pair who will cover the conventions. (By Kevin Clark -- The Washington Post)
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By Teresa Wiltz
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, August 25, 2008

News networks have been aligning themselves politically for some time -- Fox News to the right, MSNBC more and more to the left. And now, some niche networks are about to take an even more personal approach to covering the conventions.

In an online contest, a young Republican and a young Democrat, each armed with a mike and a lot of enthusiasm, beat out 148 other would-be reporters for the chance to work as "embeds" at their respective party conventions for Sí TV, a fledgling English-language network geared toward young Latinos.

The Republican, Michael Monrroy, a 19-year-old sophomore at American University, and the Democrat, Wendy Carrillo, 27, an East L.A. radio personality, will be part of the latest thing in convention coverage: news aimed at specific ages, genders and ethnicities.

TV One, an African American network based in Silver Spring, is forgoing the GOP convention to focus exclusively on the Democrats. MTV will focus on youth initiatives and Iraq, reflecting a recent poll in which viewers said their No. 1 concern is the war. And Spike TV, cable's bastion of unfettered testosterone, plans to send the buxom Obama Girl -- the YouTube sensation who lip-synced about her crush on the candidate -- to cover the Democratic convention for its online operations.

Not surprisingly, she'll be a no-show at the Republican convention.

Is this another example of the balkanization of television? Or does it indicate something deeper -- the balkanization of American thought and culture?

"In the past, in the days of the three networks, it was necessary to give off the impression of being nonpartisan," says Todd Boyd, professor of cinematic studies at the University of Southern California. "In the world of television, satellite, pay cable today, the desire or need to appear nonpartisan is no longer necessary.

"With so many channels speaking to so many interests," he continues, "you are from the very beginning indicating that you are partisan." Case study No. 1: Johnathan Rodgers, CEO of TV One, sees his convention coverage as a "celebration" of a historic event: the first time an African American will be nominated for president by a major political party. TV One, he says, is not a news network -- it's devoted exclusively to covering the African American experience for a viewership that is 93 percent black.

"Our mission is to celebrate African American culture and chronicle African American achievement," Rodgers said. "If Colin Powell were the Republican nominee, we would be covering that convention. For us, it's not about party. It's the individual."

Still, that programming decision raised some eyebrows. Conservative bloggers decried it as "racist"; Jay Leno cracked on "The Tonight Show" that black Republicans were particularly incensed -- "both of them."

Starting today, when the Democratic convention opens, TV One will go live, with reporting by Arthur Fennell, former president of the National Association of Black Journalists, and activist Joe Madison, who bills himself as "The Black Eagle." Each evening's coverage will be followed by a live, hour-long "afterparty" hosted by author and sociology professor Michael Eric Dyson, a fervent Obama supporter, and his wife, the Rev. Marcia Dyson, an avowed Hillaryite, with many other black luminaries, including the Rev. Al Sharpton and radio personality Huggy Low Down.

"Nobody's ever nonpartisan," Michael Eric Dyson says. "The best you can hope for is to put your bias on the table. You can't transcend your interests. But you've got to let fairness come in.

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