CLEVELAND — CBS News has been covering presidential nominating conventions since its radio days nearly a century ago, but never to the degree that it is capturing this year’s Republican gathering for the on-demand generation.
At the Quicken Loans Arena here, CBS has brought a small army of producers and staffers to broadcast “CBS This Morning” from the convention floor and “The CBS Evening News with Scott Pelley” and the network’s nightly 10 p.m. convention report from a balcony box.
Within arm’s length of Pelley’s set in the narrow, rectangular space packed with equipment, computers and people is the CBSN team’s set for its gavel-to-gavel streaming coverage, anchored by Josh Elliott. With all the breaking news surrounding the convention, from Melania Trump’s plagiarism scandal to the boos for Ted Cruz, the CBSN effort led by CBSN Live exec producer Mosheh Oinounou had no shortage of material.
“This is one of the most robust things we’ve done so far,” Oinounou said. “It’s been great to see us grow to the point where we’re able to do this.”
Oinounou joined CBS News in 2011, after stints at Fox News and Bloomberg, when the Eye’s breaking news coverage was largely focused on its morning show and “Evening News.” Now CBSN is able to leverage the news-gathering infrastructure and anchor talent that was already in place. “The reason we’re able to do all of this is because the CBS broadcast network has been doing news for decades,” he said.
In addition to live streaming of major events, CBSN also serves up short reports on breaking news items designed for people who dip in and out of headlines throughout the day. The four-day Republican convention, and next week’s Democratic gathering in Philadelphia, is an endurance test and learning opportunity for the CBSN team.
“We’ve been learning as we go on the most effective ways to provide an optimal live experience and how to create snackable content,” he said. “When you have an hourlong speech, you’ve got to think about how you’re going to segment that for on-demand viewers.”
Elliott, the “Good Morning America” and NBC Sports alum, hit the ground running after joining CBSN in March. Breaking news from around the world has been relentless in the past few months. He’s enjoying the challenge, even if it made it hard for him to schedule his recent honeymoon, and he is invigorated by the chance to go deep in reporting on big breaking stories without worrying about strict time constraints.
“The job doesn’t change because of the delivery mechanism,” Elliott said of working for the digital service. “On CBSN I can ask a fourth or fifth question I might have.”
While CBSN spread its wings online, the “CBS This Morning” has held court this week on section of the convention floor filled later by delegates from Illinois, Tennessee, Florida and Virginia. Anchors Norah O’Donnell, Charlie Rose and Gayle King brought their trademark blend of headlines and erudite conversation to the chilly arena where the air conditioning has been set to “meat locker,” prompting O’Donnell and King to grab hoodies and shawls during breaks in the broadcast.
But nobody’s complaining.
“I love being on the road,” King says. “We don’t do it very often but when we do it’s for something important. It’s a rush for me every day just to be on live TV. This is 100 times that.”
O’Donnell comes from a “road warrior” background of serving as a political reporter and chief White House correspondent before joining the “CBS This Morning” team in 2012. The chance to be in close quarters with the sources she’s carefully developed over the past 16 years is energizing. “This is my Super Bowl,” she said.
“CBS This Morning’s” focus on the news of the day is evident in the fact that the team is still up and working on new elements for the West Coast broadcast for nearly an hour after “Good Morning America” has torn down its set that was a stone’s throw away on the convention floor.
“We have the breathing room on our show to do news at the depth that we want to bring to it,” O’Donnell said. “We’re not doing cooking (demonstrations) and concerts.”
The trio are known for the substantive interviews and discussions they have with guests and among themselves at the oval-shaped, glass-topped desk (in Cleveland they are using the travel-size version). The greatest testament to the chemistry and rapport among the trio is that those segments are ever scripted or talked out in advance — O’Donnell, King and Rose go on instinct to avoid stepping on one another’s questions and comments.
“There’s a shared understanding and a give-and-take that is based on mutual respect,” O’Donnell said. “That’s really special.”
After the East Coast broadcast wrapped, Rose, a self-described “political junkie,” walked on to the stage of the Quicken Loans Arena to speak with a GOP official he spotted. He found himself standing at the podium where so much speechifying has taken place this week. He let loose with the opening lines of the Gettysburg address, to the delight of “This Morning” staffers. But then duty called for promo spots and West Coast updates.
“Charlie Rose, do you want to accept the nomination or do you want to finish this?” stage manager Tony Mirante shouted.
As Rose descended the stairs to return to his anchor chair, a female production crew member sighed and remarked: “If only he were the nominee.”
(Pictured: Norah O’Donnell, Charlie Rose, Gayle King)