By: Joe Strupp

This Week In Philadelphia

If the national political conventions have gone from exciting,
suspense-filled moments of history to boring, rehearsed party
commercials – as a number of network TV executives seem to believe –
someone forgot to tell the nation’s leading newspapers, which are
planning their broadest and most in-depth coverage ever.

And for newspaper Web sites – gearing up for 24-hour coverage
ranging from hourly updates and research reports to live chats and
video discussions – the conventions represent the first chance to
show off their latest technological advances and instant reporting
methods on a national political stage.

‘This will go down in history as the first Web convention,’ said
Dirk Mathison, political editor of latimes.com, which has 12
staffers on hand for Internet coverage during this week’s Republican
National Convention in Philadelphia. ‘Four years ago, Web coverage
was practically nonexistent. It will be a real multimedia

Along with daily newspaper stories online, latimes.com will provide
a regular daily Webcast on convention events, hourly updates, and
analysis from Los Angeles Times reporters, as well as chats and
discussions at the convention. ‘We will be supplementing the Los
Angeles Times coverage,’ Mathison said.

The story is similar at The New York Times, The Washington Post, The
Wall Street Journal, and USA Today, all of which are planning to
offer round-the-clock Web coverage in Philadelphia and at the
Democratic National Convention in Los Angeles two weeks later.
Among the Internet highlights from each publication:

o Washingtonpost.com, which is doubling its on-site staff at each
convention from four in 1996 to eight this year, will have a daily
videotaped round-table discussion, a twice-daily Web column from
media writer Howard Kurtz, and streaming video of each night’s

o USAToday.com will offer daily convention Webcasts with streaming
video, regular news updates, and two staffers leading chat

o The New York Times on the Web will double its number of daily
online discussions, from one before and after the conventions to two
during the events, while offering increased audio and video coverage,
Web-only features, and online forums.

o The Wall Street Journal Interactive Edition, a paid service, will
beef up coverage with several online-only reporters, daily chats with
political guests, and campaign video from C-SPAN.

‘One of the major changes is that four years ago you might have spent
an hour downloading a brief video snippet,’ said Mark Stencel, washingtonpost.com political editor. ‘Now, it’s practically in real

But editors contend that Web reporting will not replace convention
coverage in the print product. On the contrary, many say the daily
read will be as big or bigger than ever.

‘Our decision about how much to cover in print has very little to do
with the Web,’ said James Roberts, political editor at The New York
Times. ‘There are a lot of events that we need to cover and be on top

In each case, editors said they were sending as many staffers, if not
more, to each convention. Although they agree that the elements of
suspense have dwindled, most say the need for coverage remains – with
a challenge to dig up news and keep on top of changing events.

‘The more we see it as a coronation, the more pressure that puts on
all media to do more enterprise,’ said USA Today Political Editor Gwen
Flanders, whose paper will send nine editors, 17 reporters, two
columnists, and four photo staffers to Philadelphia – a 30% increase
over its convention staffing levels in 1996. ‘It is increasingly so
that we are challenged to dig into things and explain the news, and
that takes more people.’

The Los Angeles Times, which sent 58 people to the 1996 Democratic
convention in Chicago, has 70 people in Philadelphia this week. For
conventions closer to home, the increase is similar, with 90 Times’
editorial employees lined up to report from the Democratic convention
in Los Angeles, compared to the 65 who converged on nearby San Diego
to cover the Republican convention in 1996.

The Wall Street Journal, which had assigned 12 reporters and editors
to convention coverage in 1996, and The Washington Post, which had
assigned 16, each say the same numbers of people will be on hand this
year. The New York Times and The Associated Press would not specify
how many editorial employees were going to the conventions, but said
the reporting crews would equal 1996 levels.

‘The conventions are still a good story,’ said Sandy Johnson, the
AP’s Washington bureau chief. ‘The conventions also offer a good
shot at convergence [of print and online coverage].’


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