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Friday, August 31, 2012 - Page updated at 04:00 p.m.
At convention, role reversal for new media and old media
By JEREMY W. PETERS
The New York Times
TAMPA, Fla. — Strange things are happening inside the media work spaces at the Republican National Convention.
The Washington Post has built a miniature television set in its offices, complete with a comfy sofa and coffee table reminiscent of "The Oprah Winfrey Show."
The Huffington Post, that emblem of new media's speed and vigor, is putting out a magazine with the slogan "Embrace the Slow News Movement."
And Diane Sawyer is pulling double duty: anchoring "ABC World News" and taping videos for Yahoo.
Media organizations have turned the political parties' quadrennial gatherings this year into laboratories of innovation and experimentation, straying from their traditional areas of expertise as they search for new ways to engage readers and audiences.
So far, it seems, the new media has decided that it wants to be the old media, and the old media has decided that it wants to be the new media.
"Everybody is trying to be in everybody else's space," said Marcus W. Brauchli, executive editor of The Washington Post. "There are so many people covering politics now, and everybody competes on every platform. So in order to demonstrate your commitment and authority, it's important to be present in every medium. And we are."
Convention coverage has come a long way from the days when the "boys on the bus" — the pack of A-list print reporters like R.W. Apple of The New York Times, David S. Broder of The Washington Post and Walter R. Mears of The Associated Press — set the pace for political reporting more than a generation ago armed with little more than a pen, a pad and a wicked hangover.
Back then, conventions were less scripted and generated more surprises, while today's media labor to enliven coverage of what typically are endless hours of preordained events.
Now, Mears' Associated Press occupies a skybox at the Tampa Bay Times Forum, the site of the convention, where it shoots and broadcasts high-definition video.
This year, the one accessory most newspapers cannot seem to do without is a set with cameras and television lights. The New York Times has its own skybox as well, and for the first time is providing live-streamed coverage of a convention.
The Washington Post records several hours a day of webcasts from its pop-up set inside the convention center here. It has also partnered with a startup company called Socialcam that allows it to post video vignettes of conventiongoers that are recorded on iPhones by a team of interns.
ABC News has partnered with Yahoo and is streaming 30 hours of coverage with an anchor online. NBC News and CBS News will both stream the convention live from gavel to gavel on their websites. CNN and Fox News, evidently not content with their round-the-clock platforms on cable, are also offering extensive streaming coverage.
As more traditional media like newspapers and television explore new media possibilities, new media outlets are going in the opposite direction. The Huffington Post has started producing a magazine for the iPad that focuses on the kind of long-form journalism that it is best known for aggregating from other publications.
The Post's namesake, Arianna Huffington, said in an interview that she came to realize that people like a break from the rapid-fire news cycle, which can overload readers.
"We are all recognizing that we are paying a heavy price for hyper-connectivity," she said.
Politico, which upended the conventional political news cycle as a startup five years ago, has partnered with no less a hallmark of eat-your-vegetables journalism than C-Span to simulcast its live Web coverage. And its print articles during the Republican convention are appearing in The Tampa Bay Times.
John F. Harris, Politico's editor in chief, explained these rather incongruous partnerships as a way of remaining relevant in a media environment that is rapidly evolving. "You can never be complacent about where you find your audience and how you connect with your audience," he said.
No one seems quite sure where these experiments will end up. Privately, they concede that their streaming Web videos draw extremely low traffic compared with their articles — for smaller news organizations, sometimes only a few hundred viewers at a time.
News websites see tremendous potential in digital video advertising, which commands far higher rates than traditional Web display ads. But so far, the video investments have yet to reap significant rewards.
Harris described Politico's Web video as "kind of groping cheerfully with a sense of fun and experimentation — and we're not sure what it becomes."
If the conventions fail to produce much in the way of news these days, the one thing they do generate for news outlets is an unparalleled opportunity to raise their profiles. Bloomberg has spent more than $1 million to construct an airy, sleek office space here. Caterers serve Nicoise salad with seared tuna for lunch, and visitors lounge on white leather couches as New Age music pulses through overhead speakers.
"The convention around the convention is the story," said Kevin Sheekey, chairman of Bloomberg Government, a news service sold to lobbyists and Capitol Hill offices for thousands of dollars a year.
Copyright © The Seattle Times Company
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