Gentlemen, start your contrariness! Ten days before this week's swoop-down of 15,000 journalists (including a handful of us from reason) onto Denver for the Democratic National Convention, two media harrumphers I frequently agree with, Jack Shafer and Jeff Jarvis, both advocated journalistic boycotts of the proceedings. Said the Buzzmachinist:
The outcome of the conventions is known. There will be no news. Why are these news organizations sending so many staffers there?
That's it, pure a[n]d simple: Our man in Denver. Instead of your woman.
Amenned the Pressboxer:
They fight their colleagues for the honor to attend because a political convention is a gas to cover. It's like a vacation, only no spouses! There's free food, plenty of booze, nice hotels, lots of pals in the press and politics dishing gossip, and the assignment is easy to report.
Either Jarvis and Shafer haven't been to a major-party political convention in a while, or they've forgotten what the view's like from the cheap seats, where the vast majority of the 15,000 sit (and where I've witnessed three of the past four crimes against democracy). The only "ego" involved there is that teensy weensy little thing of yours that got crushed on Day 1, under the boot-heel of technology that never works, passes that rarely get you where you need to go, and the dispiriting sight of overstaffed, moneybags news organizations yukking it up while you scramble to actually work. Free food? If you like lukewarm boiled hot dogs, sure. Nice hotels? I've heard of those. Vacation? Only if your idea of leisure involves four hours of sleep a night, free-speech cages, and the existential horrors of watching American politics up close and personal.
Why do it? Aside from the random kicks in learning about Hawaiian independence movements, getting interviewed by Jerry Brown, discovering that the DNC chair is a dot-com weenie with a mind of cheese, and taking photographic evidence of the "Axis of Ass," there is the non-insignificant matter that reason is a political magazine of ideas, with deeply skeptical, independent-skewing readers who have some specific fears about both a John McCain presidency and a Barack Obama restoration. Since the Democratic flock will be collected in one place, it's an excellent week for hunting wabbit. Would a unified Democratic government usher in an era of re-regulation? Does Obama's anti-Iraq War stance indicate bold new foreign policy thinking or just that Darfur is a better target than Baghdad? Will the Dems' de facto advantages on stuff like the drug war, immigration, and anti-anti-gay measures ever translate into actual policy worth a damn? Would an Obama-Biden White House forget about limiting Executive Power the moment they felt it coursing through their veins? These are the questions (and if you have more, Dear Readers, please leave them in the comments, and we'll try to get them answered).
Jarvis and Shafer both claim that C-SPAN is more than enough to handle whatever news there is this week, but that assumes, wrongly, that the news at any given time is limited to whatever's being said from the podium–a concept that's even less accurate about conventions than it is for Congress (where the horse-trading that seals deals happens exclusively off-camera). More importantly, these things are well and truly conventions, huge gatherings of professional practitioners, fans, and journalists who are constantly combining and producing noteworthiness far away from the arena. Here, for example, are four events taking place at 1:30 p.m. today:
Symposium on Philanthropy: A Driving Force for Change with CNN founder Ted Turner, Quiznos founder Rick Schaden, and Google's Larry Brilliant, sponsored by the Democratic National Convention Committee, Boettcher Hall, 950 13th St.
Symposium on Retirement Security with Adams Group CEO Tucker Hart Adams, Center for American Progress' Dr. Christian Weller and Stamford Mayor Daniel Malloy, sponsored by the Democratic National Convention Committee, Ricketson Theatre, 14th and Curtis Sts.
Symposium on Transportation Infrastructure with former Rep. Dick Gephardt (D-Mo.), Gov. Ed Rendell (D-Pa.), Policy Link President Angela Glover Blackwell, Atlanta Mayor Shirley Franklin, and Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.), sponsored by the Democratic National Convention Committee, Space Theatre, 13th & Curtis Sts.
Immigration Reform and the Next Administration featuring New Democratic Network director of Hispanic programs Andres Ramirez, Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.), National Council of La Raza President Janet Murguia, and America's Voice executive director Frank Sharry, sponsored by the New Democratic Network, Hilton Gardner Inn, 1400 Welton St.
The stuff off-camera is where party heavyweights talk ideas, reassure swing voters that the candidate doesn't really mean his campaign rhetoric, and/or express frustration that their pet causes are being ignored. Meanwhile, the streets are filled with over-militarized cops, Mumia-loving commies, and as many at 200,000 funny-looking people. And yes, sometimes being inside for the speeches can be a more profound experience than watching on the boob tube back home.
So watch this space this week and next for reportage, hijinks, and some peeks behind the curtain of the political sausage factory. Let the games begin!