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Ink-stained and wretched

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Newspaper reporters struggle at made-for-TV convention

LOS ANGELES (CNN) -- Political conventions and campaigns are telecentric events -- played to the network cameras and focused on the millions of potential viewers in the prime-time television audience.

"This is an event where the planners are really determined to get on TV -- not in the old-style newspaper that gets published 12 hours later," said Susan Page, Washington bureau chief at USA Today.

"When either party wants to get its message to the people, they call on CNN, ABC, CBS, NBC -- those are the conduits they want to use," said Bill Hershey, a reporter for the Dayton Daily News in Ohio. "We are second-class citizens."

The reporters who work for the nation's big-city and small-town newspapers -- the scribblers and scribes and ink-stained wretches -- are having a hard time of it at the Democratic convention.

Video Senior Correspondent Beth Nissen says newspaper reporters are struggling at the made-for-TV Democratic convention

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To convention organizers, the print reporters don't count -- literally. The Democratic Convention Committee says it doesn't know how many newspapers have credentials to cover the event. At the same time, the committee does know the count of the broadcast and Webcast media: 160 TV stations, 93 radio stations and 150 Internet sites are here.

Everything is so focused on the broadcast media that it can be hard for even large newspapers to get access to the largest newsmakers. They often move from network skybox to network skybox in the convention arena, doing a succession of live television interviews and guest shots.

Newspaper reporters don't always get their calls returned.

"Sometimes key interviews would rather be seen on TV than in a newspaper the next day," said a resigned Page.

It's even harder for regional newspaper reporters. "We're just sort of fighting, in terms of news value, for the scraps, the behind-the-scenes stories," said Dayton reporter Hershey.

Deadline woes

But the biggest problem for newspaper reporters is the convention's late schedule: The headlines come after the deadlines.

"The prime speakers each night are on from 10 to 11 p.m. Eastern time, which is designed to get the maximum TV audience," said Page. "But that's late for newspapers. It means a lot of newspapers miss their early editions with the big speeches."

The standard deadline for the first morning edition of the Dayton Daily News is typical: Stories need to be filed and edited by about 8 p.m. Eastern time -- two hours before each evening's headline speaker reaches the podium.

Printing can be delayed, if there is important, late-breaking news. On the last night of the Republican convention in Philadelphia, for example, the Dayton newspaper stopped the presses until George W. Bush finished his acceptance speech.

"We made the paper," said Hershey, a veteran of seven political conventions. "But there was no time to get reaction, to do analysis, to find out what people in Ohio thought about what he said. And that's what local papers do that's so important. You're not going to hear those local voices on national television, or most of the Web sites people can access."

In print and online

To get more reporting to their readers without the long delay required to print and deliver hard copies of a newspaper, most newspapers maintain their own Web sites: 93 percent of all print publications are now online.

Newspaper reporter
Officials from the convention don't know how many newspaper reporters are covering it  

"Newspapers are trying to use their own Web sites to provide 24-hour coverage, even though the old dinosaur, ink-on-paper version only comes out once a day," said Howard Kurtz, media reporter for The Washington Post.

A growing number of newspaper reporters are like Page. She files articles for the next day's edition of USA Today, updates those articles and does online chats for USA Today's Web site. She even goes on television: Page appears on "Late Edition," CNN's news talk show, as a news analyst and commentator.

"Television is the name of the game," said Kurtz, who appears on the CNN show, "Reliable Sources." "It's live and it has the greatest reach."

Big coverage, small audiences

Yet despite television's great reach, it hasn't touched all that many Americans with its convention reporting.

Audiences have been small for all the network, cable and Internet convention coverage, meaning those inky, old-fashioned newspapers may be the greatest source of the most basic convention news. Millions of Americans at least glance at a front page every day.

"These conventions are staged for television, but it's not very good television, and most people are watching more interesting programs," said Kurtz. "I think a lot of people are going to form their impressions on how the party did by front-page headlines, by the pictures on the front page, by some of the analysis. By what's in the paper."


Thursday, August 17, 2000

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