Media Event

The public may or may not care about the conventions, but the news media <i>loves</i> them.

Fight disinformation. Get a daily recap of the facts that matter. Sign up for the free Mother Jones newsletter.


It’s been widely noted – and clucked about – that this year’s party conventions will get less play from the networks than at any time since the events were first televised in 1948. Cable is going for all-out, gavel-to-gavel coverage, but the nets will show only three hours.

How come? Well, partly because most people aren’t interested — and rightly so, notes the Christian Science Monitor:

[F]or most Americans, the Democratic National Convention will be but a blip on the radar screen – if it registers at all. Political conventions are now designed to be news-free zones; expect no platform fights, no multiple ballots to settle on the nominees, no smoke-filled rooms.

“Apart from the acceptance speeches, the only people watching will be base Democrats, hard-core political junkies, and Republican opposition researchers,” says [a political scientist].

That might be overstating things. Or it might not. Of respondents to a Marist College poll last week, 65 percent said they plan to watch some or “a great deal” of the proceedings in Boston. But according to a Harvard Kennedy School survey released the same day, only 31 percent do.

The networks are obviously betting on the Kennedy School scenario, on the thinking that there just isn’t a great appetite out there for convention coverage. But as this Washington Post piece suggests, this logic is self-fulfilling.

[Thomas E. Patterson of the Kennedy School] thinks the networks should carry more of the convention to fulfill their officially mandated “public service” requirements. He thinks the networks’ argument against more coverage — that declining ratings don’t justify it — is a self-fulfilling one. “They are as much leading” the viewership decline as following it, he says.
To back that up, he points to statistics from Nielsen Media Research that show that the networks have cut their convention coverage hours at a far faster clip than the corresponding decline in the audience. Observes Patterson “There’s a market out there, but if you starve it, it shrinks.”

And make no mistake, it will shrink. The same piece notes that “during the 2000 conventions, the audience ranged from 15 million to 27 million households when the broadcast networks carried coverage. With cable-only coverage, the audience never exceeded 10 million.”

OK, so if media coverage is down, and–let’s assume–public interest is waning (even admitting that this may be a result, not a cause of the reduced coverage) how come there are 15,000 journalists (yes, that’s right, three times the number of delegates) at the convention this week? What are they up to? Nicholas Von Hoffman, writing in The New Republic in 1988, came up with this intriguing explanation, which, if true then, must be far truer now.

If the convention has ceased to have a political function, it has its uses for journalism. The mass media has moved into the politicians’ spot like a cowbird in a thrush’s nest and turned it into journalism’s equivalent of the annual meeting of the Modern Language Association, where the nation’s teachers of English come to look for jobs. Every four years this is where thousands of media executives, editors, reporters, public relations firms, and who knows what all else come to network their little heads off, making contacts and cruising for job offers. The numbers of media people and the money spent for entertainments bear no relationship to the importance of the story they have ostensibly gathered to cover. They, indeed, will be the only dynamic force at Atlanta and New Orleans, for the national convention itself is a political cultural lag, a government subsidized anachronism living on from the time of the Pullman car and the telegrapher’s key.

Well, come to think of it, the
the “Momentum” party thrown in honor of the media–which kicked off Convention Week on Saturday night in Boston–was, by far, the biggest bash of the entire week, featuring a drum and bugle corps that “led the crowd through glass doors into a massive room with lantern-lit cabanas, a seemingly endless line of cocktail bars, even a Ferris wheel.”

If that’s a taste of what convention week’s all about, no wonder journalists find it so compelling. Even media people, though, can have too much of a good thing.

”We were wondering what ‘Momentum’ was all about,” said conservative commentator Ann Coulter. ”The drinks are excellent. But too many journalists.”

HERE ARE THE FACTS:

Our fall fundraising drive is off to a rough start, and we very much need to raise $250,000 in the next couple of weeks. If you value the journalism you get from Mother Jones, please help us do it with a donation today.

As we wrote over the summer, traffic has been down at Mother Jones and a lot of sites with many people thinking news is less important now that Donald Trump is no longer president. But if you're reading this, you're not one of those people, and we're hoping we can rally support from folks like you who really get why our reporting matters right now. And that's how it's always worked: For 45 years now, a relatively small group of readers (compared to everyone we reach) who pitch in from time to time has allowed Mother Jones to do the type of journalism the moment demands and keep it free for everyone else.

Please pitch in with a donation during our fall fundraising drive if you can. We can't afford to come up short, and there's still a long way to go by November 5.

payment methods

ONE MORE QUICK THING:

Our fall fundraising drive is off to a rough start, and we very much need to raise $250,000 in the next couple of weeks. If you value the journalism you get from Mother Jones, please help us do it with a donation today.

As we wrote over the summer, traffic has been down at Mother Jones and a lot of sites with many people thinking news is less important now that Donald Trump is no longer president. But if you're reading this, you're not one of those people, and we're hoping we can rally support from folks like you who really get why our reporting matters right now. And that's how it's always worked: For 45 years now, a relatively small group of readers (compared to everyone we reach) who pitch in from time to time has allowed Mother Jones to do the type of journalism the moment demands and keep it free for everyone else.

Please pitch in with a donation during our fall fundraising drive if you can. We can't afford to come up short, and there's still a long way to go by November 5.

payment methods

We Recommend

Latest

Sign up for our free newsletter

Subscribe to the Mother Jones Daily to have our top stories delivered directly to your inbox.

Get our award-winning magazine

Save big on a full year of investigations, ideas, and insights.

Subscribe

Support our journalism

Help Mother Jones' reporters dig deep with a tax-deductible donation.

Donate