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Gearing Up for Conventions: Mobilized Media Prep for a Dearth of Real Drama

Romney_pressUpdated

Major media outlets are about to embark on a two-week blitz of
political saturation, seizing on opportunities for branding and
promotion as they cover the Republican National Convention in Tampa,
Fla., next week and the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte,
N.C., the following week.

All that may be missing is actual news
— there hasn’t been genuine suspense over a presidential ticket since
1980, when Ronald Reagan’s team made overtures to former president
Gerald Ford to join the ticket but the talks eventually collapsed.

The
dearth of breaking stories is reflected in the way that the three major
broadcast networks will cover the conventions: With star anchors in
place, ABC, CBS and NBC are planning three hours of primetime coverage
of the Republican convention and three hours of the Democratic
convention. They are not even planning coverage of the first night of the GOP convention, on Monday, when Ann Romney is scheduled to speak. NBC won’t even feature primetime coverage of the Democratic Convention on Sept. 5, a Wednesday, and instead will air an NFL football game.

But even if the nets’ coverage is a whisper of what it
once was, you’d be hard pressed to argue that they’re actually backing
away from what has become each major party’s primary promotional
platform.

In fact, Sam Feist, CNN’s Washington bureau chief and
senior VP, said he thinks “these two conventions are as important …as
wehave seen in a long time.” His point is that much of the public will
now be just starting to focus on the presidential contest in what
amounts to a “reset button” to the campaign. The networks’ coverage will
reflect that, he said, and they will make extensive use of
fact-checking segments of speeches and analysis via such things as CNN’s
Magic Wall, among other technology.

MSNBC president Phil Griffin
said that news cabler is taking a different approach, with an emphasis
on analysis and its team of personalities. It will offer coverage not
just from Tampa and Charlotte abut also from swing states like Virginia,
Ohio and Wisconsin.

“Some people are treating this like it is
1950; we are treating this like it is 2012,” he said. “We are sending
about half the people we sent before because we want to keep it
national.”

No matter where resources are deployed, the 24-hour
news networks have ambitious plans for what will amount to nearly
round-the-clock coverage. Bret Baier and Megyn Kelly are anchoring Fox
News’ primetime coverage; Wolf Blitzer, Anderson Cooper, Erin Burnett,
Candy Crowley and John King are leading CNN’s nightly coverage, and
Rachel Maddow and Chris Matthews are hosting MSNBC’s coverage.

Anxious
to make a mark, other news nets are expanding staffs. Bloomberg
Television is doubling the number of reporters, editors analysts and
producers it is sending, with a special focus on business and the
economy. And there are a dizzying array of plans for the use of social
media and iPad apps, to the point where the conventions may start to
resemble a software developer conference, with Facebook and Google each
planning a substantial presence including seminars and even product
demonstrations. Current TV will devote half of its screen to give a
“nonstop sense of social media conversations,” said its president, David
Bohrman. “We will be able to identify and isolate interesting strands
of conversation from millions of Twitter messages,” he said.

There
also will be hints of ventures to come. ABC News, which announced in
May that it will launch a 24-hour news and lifestyle network with
Univision, will feature Jorge Ramos in Tampa and Maria Elena Salinas in
Charlotte.

Other highlights:

Past nominee pundits:
Sarah Palin will not have a speaker slot at the convention, but she will
be among the commentators on Fox News, along with Karl Rove, Joe Trippi
and many others. Former VP Al Gore, the Democratic party standard
bearer in 2000, will lead a panel of Current TV anchors and commentators
on the network he co-founded. But Gore will be in New York, where
Current’s coverage will be based, as it would have been awkward to have
him onsite on the convention floor.

Stream dreams: The recently
launched HuffPost Live is planning a convention push, as is Politico and
a host of other sites aiming to gain an online video foothold in 2012.
And while broadcasters’ gavel-to-gavel coverage is a thing of the past,
the three broadcast nets are all providing substantial streaming
coverage. ABC News is planning 30 or more hours of live streamed
coverage on digital platforms and Yahoo, CBS News and NBC News are
providing gavel-to-gavel streams.

Site bites: CNN is again
building an actual eatery, the CNN Grill, just outside the convention
venues in Tampa and Charlotte, with a fully outfitted broadcast studio
and menus for convention goers that reflect local fare. MSNBC is
planning what it calls a “consumer marketing experience” at each
convention, with “Morning Joe” viewing parties that include personalized
button making, photo booths and free coffee. Foxnews.com is planning a
“backstage” look to the Republican convention, including not just
streaming coverage but behind the scenes video of how its team covers
the events.

Photo: Getty Images.

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