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Massive media presence descends on Democratic National Convention

September 05, 2012|By Alana Semuels
  • Jesse Jackson speaks with the media on the floor of the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, N.C.
Jesse Jackson speaks with the media on the floor of the Democratic National… (Davis Turner / EPA )

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- It might be a Republican's nightmare: swarms of media, especially mainstream media, descending on a city, outnumbering everyone else and clogging up the lines for coffee. But that’s exactly what's happening this week in Charlotte as reporters, editors, photographers, bloggers, gaffers and administrators from Tokyo to Washington are in town to cover the convention.

There are an estimated 15,000 members of the media in town, making up nearly half of the 35,000 people the Charlotte Regional Visitors Authority estimates will attend the convention this week. To put that in some perspective: There are only 5,556 delegates and 407 alternates, meaning there are 2.5 media members per every potential delegate.

A stroll through the cavernous basement of the Charlotte Convention Center finds media from all over the country and the world. There's the Tampa Bay Times and the Boston Globe, the blog BuzzFeed and the Huffington Post, which has tony couches in its sectioned-off working space. Crews are in town from the Republic of Georgia and the Czech Republic, from the Netherlands and Britain and Cuba.

At a Southern Workers Assembly meeting in a Baptist church in a Charlotte suburb, a TV crew from Russia Today filmed workers talking about the importance of organizing unions in the South.

Convention organizers say there are media representatives from every continent but Antarctica. (The State Department also has a program that brings foreign media organizations to special events such as the political conventions.)

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"We're doing the same thing as the U.S. media," said Tsukasa Arita, Washington deputy bureau chief for Kyodo News, sitting at a workspace along with seven other reporters from the news service. "We're looking to hear what President Obama says, and looking at Asian issues."

The costs of this huge media presence, especially in an industry that's seen its fair share of bankruptcies and downsizings in recent years, is mind-boggling. Most hotels in Charlotte cost at least $200 a night per person; cars will be a few hundred dollars per person. That's no small tab for organizations such as the Washington Post, which has about 50 people attending the convention, or Dow Jones/Wall Street Journal, which has about 44.

Even more expensive is the cost of the work spaces in the convention center, where blue curtains on rods separate organizations from each other, and in Time Warner Cable Arena, where some TV networks have their own suites to watch -- and cover -- the speakers.

The costs run into hundreds of thousands of dollars for big media organizations. Double that for the costs associated with the Republican convention and you have the headache facing anyone trying to make a profit in an industry still trying to figure out a sustainable business model.

Hargrove Inc., which won the contract to provide services for the convention, charges per table and square foot of carpeting, for security guards and food (media aren't allowed to bring their own food to work spaces). They charge for the drapes and for the trash cans, for the folding chairs and the microwaves and the TVs. The option of installing foam-board walls, rather than curtains, for privacy, makes prices go even higher.

And this being a Democratic convention, they also charge for union workers to move all this stuff in -- at high hourly rates. AT&T gets a cut too, for the Internet lines, phone lines and phones they put in at the convention center and the arena.

This is the most media to hit town for an event, according to the Charlotte Regional Visitors Authority. Not the most people though -- that honor belongs to the NRA, which drew 60,000 people here for a convention in 2010.

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It's nearly impossible to walk through the convention center without seeing someone being interviewed on TV or on radio. Companies have tried to capitalize on this by shilling products such as phone headsets and research services near media spaces.

It’s a bit overwhelming for some reporters. That includes Claire Duncan, who, at 10, might be the youngest media member at the convention. She writes for Time for Kids, and was strolling around the floor with her brother.

Both had coveted red Floor Press passes, which allow them unlimited access to space at the arena. Duncan, from Arlington, Va., has covered stories such as the Martin Luther King Memorial and a math exhibit in Washington. Neither were as well attended as the convention.

"It's a little intimidating," she said. "There are just so many people."

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alana.semuels@latimes.com

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