By: MARK FITZGERALD
HOW DO YOU cover a Democratic National Convention that resembled more a slick telethon than a smoke-filled room?
For two big newspaper-led media chains, the answer was to integrate their print and broadcast news teams tighter than ever before.
At both chains ? Scripps Howard and Tribune Co. ? the walls that once separated newspaper and broadcast properties in chains have been crumbling for years.
For instance, both operate Washington, D.C., news bureaus that house cameras and broadcast journalists alongside newspaper reporters and editors.
What their 1996 convention coverage showed is how interwoven that print/electronic cooperation has become.
“I approve of it. I think it really helps us,” said Dan K. Thomasson, vice president/news for Scripps Howard Newspapers.
Throughout the convention, Thomasson and other Scripps print journalists moved from the media pavilions outside the convention hall to the Scripps remote broadcast facility.
“I’ll go up there and do a piece for Tulsa or
Cleveland or Detroit [television affiliates]. I’ll do several feeds at a time,” Thomasson said.
Similarly, Chicago Tribune reporters frequently appeared on WGN-TV, the Tribune Co. superstation and other Tribune outlets such as WGN Radio; Chicagoland Television (CLTV), the 24-hour local cable station; and on its two local digital publishing efforts, Chicago Online and Internet Chicago Tribune.
For the Tribune Co., the conventions were the first national rollout of Tribune Media Centers, multimedia newsrooms
that combine the journalistic resources of print, broadcast and digital publishing at a common site. In both conventions, the media centers had combined assignment desks for newspapers and broadcast plus a broadcast studio. Also located in the center were computer stations to permit journalists or story sources to go online to chat rooms.
The Chicago Tribune has used this concept since introducing CLTV about a year ago.
“This foreshadows the future newsroom at the Chicago Tribune, currently under development, that will produce a newspaper, broadcast or digital news,” newspaper spokesman Jeffrey D. Bierig said.
At both Scripps Howard and Tribune, broadcast outlets get the benefit of the expertise and digging of their print colleagues. So what do the newspapers get?
“As a newspaper, it gives you a little more access to the heavy hitters when politicians think they’re not just talking to the local paper, the Chicago Tribune. It helps in terms of access and in terms of sources,” said Jim O’Shea, the Tribune’s deputy managing editor.
Broadcast and digital publishing also helps push newspaper stories, O’Shea said.
“We can take [a story] . . . and put it on CLTV and WGN and link up with the Internet so we get a little more oomph, a little more distribution of the stories,” he said.
It’s been a beneficial relationship, says Scripps Howard’s Thomasson.
“We scratch their back and they scratch ours,” Thomasson said.
Even with this new integrated coverage, however, it seems plain that much will change again when ? or if ? the conventions reconvene in the year 2000.
“I’m not whining about the lack of news,” Thomasson said. “There’s a relevance that we can’t ignore.”
At the same time, he said, the tightly scripted nature of the gatherings compels the chain to reevaluate the resources it will devote to future conventions, he said.
Scripps had about 20 newspaper journalists at the convention, Thomasson said.
“Even at that, we’ve cut way down,” he said. “We used to have a cast of thousands.”
The Tribune’s O’Shea was so unimpressed with the quality of “news” from the Republican National Convention in San Diego that he told E&P at the time he was thinking of cutting back even for the Chicago convention.
The ten days between the two conventions gave no time for that, but the coverage is nevertheless sure to change, O’Shea said.
“The notion that there is no news here is somewhat overstated,” O’Shea said. “But it’s different news, about donors, money, politics and all the lobbying that goes on. You’ll need different reporters ? more investigative people, more diggers, people going out and making the connections.
“As far as the features about what is going on, on the floor ? I think that time is over.”
Two big newspaper-dominant chains integrate their print and broadcast news teams to cover the Democratic convention
Tribune Co.’s work area at the
Democratic convention in
Chicago housed cameras and broadcast journalists alongside newspaper reporters and editors.