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Festive follies

"Festive follies" Continued...

Just one other group rivaled the amount of security personal at the conventions: journalists. More than 15,000 journalists from all over the world attended the conventions. That's 15,000 reporters at each convention, outnumbering delegates by nearly 3-to-1.

It cost media organizations an estimated $60 million (thankfully not taxpayer money) to keep up with each other at the conventions. The biggest media outlets recreated entire newsrooms in both cities. Blue curtains served as temporary walls, dividing The New York Times from the Associated Press and CBS News from ABC News. With security standing guard at each of their entrances, the makeshift newsrooms contained computers lined up on desks, big-screen televisions, and break rooms with couches and catered food.

It made it a challenge to find a delegate to interview when nearly every person you passed wore a press badge. Every evening as I left the convention center to head to the arena for that night's speeches, I was amazed at how many reporters remained behind, seated and staring at computer screens on their temporary desks. I guess they were too busy tweeting, blogging, or writing internet and print stories to bother covering each night's main event in person. I even passed one radio reporter talking about the electric atmosphere of the convention during a live report that he conducted while at his media outlet's press area buried in the convention center's quiet basement.

But not all media organizations remained stuck in the convention center's dungeons. CNN spent an estimated $2 million creating its own temporary restaurant, complete with a large neon sign at the entrance proudly identifying it as the "CNN Grill." There you could get free food and drinks, but only if you had special badges. The Huffington Post decided to offer more than free food. At their "Oasis" spot, reporters and delegates could attend free yoga classes and get sleep consultations, stress reduction advice, and back rubs.

Traditional media outlet The Washington Post held "Politics and Pints" trivia nights while new media outlet Buzzfeed hosted a party at the Florida Aquarium in Tampa that included women dressed as mermaids swimming in the tanks and photo opportunities with live penguins.

Why go cover panel discussions on immigration reform or presentations on Medicare when you can have your picture taken with penguins?

I arrived home from the conventions with more swag than news, including a pedometer courtesy of the Democratic National Convention that I can't seem to get past counting 500 steps even though I know I walked several thousand steps each day just getting through all the security checkpoints.

I also came away with a greater understanding of recycling, as volunteers sat beside the trash cans at the Democratic convention ready to inform you what trash was supposed to go where: the compost, recycle or landfill bins.

Finally, though, I left each convention wondering if all of this was even necessary.

Edward Lee Pitts
Edward Lee Pitts

Lee teaches journalism at Dordt College in Sioux Center, Iowa, and is the associate dean of the World Journalism Institute.


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