The Star Tribune is there. The PiPress is there. KSTP, Fox9, KARE and MPR are there. Even online-only pups like MinnPost, Minnesota Independent and The Uptake are there.
Who’s not in Denver for the Democratic National Convention? WCCO-TV.
The station with the highest-profile local layoff thus far (weathergod Paul Douglas) is saving dough by keeping chief political correspondent Pat Kessler closer to the State Fair than Invesco Field — even though the Democrats’ gathering has special local relevance with the Republicans here next week.
WCCO News Director Scott Libin frankly acknowledges the move is financial, and though he didn’t put it this way, it sounds like it wasn’t his call. Few of the 16 CBS-owned local affiliates sent local teams, save Chicago, Barack Obama’s hometown, Libin notes. (Philadelphia’s KYW was added late because Delaware’s Joe Biden is from next door, and New York’s WCBS may also be there.)
Kessler admits when he got the news he was “irritated. I was angry and I was disappointed and frustrated.”
Now, says the frank-speaking dean of local TV political correspondents, “I’m torn.”
Over-covered or not?
You can encapsulate the “Conventions: Over-covered or not?” debate in Kessler’s processing. CBS has unwittingly become the exemplar for critics who say cash-strapped news operations should save their coin for local events, not staged spectacles.
“My company, and local media in general, have been talking about not going for the last 12 years, the last three conventions,” says Kessler, who’s done the circuit since at least 1984. “I’ve been waiting for a long time for this shoe to drop, and now it has.”
And yet ultimately, even the stagiest political convention is a source convention. “This is where a lot of the [political] stories for the next two months come from,” Kessler observes. “This is where the activists in the campaign are.”
And of course, there’s always a chance news breaks out. If Denver provides any trenchant lessons for RNC security, or Amy Klobuchar kills in her podium speech tonight, or Gov. Tim Pawlenty delivers an especially juicy or embarrassing zinger as part of the GOP’s onsite response team, ‘CCO won’t be there with a camera in anyone’s face.
Instead, Channel 4 will have to hope CBS’s two-reporter, six-person, affiliate-feeding team will prioritize Minnesota over the network’s 15 other hungry mouths.
Do newshounds really lose?
From the public’s standpoint, any big local story WCCO misses will be amply covered by the rest of us donkey chasers. It’s just that you won’t get the benefit of Kessler’s experience or insight, and Channel 4 gets another ding in its brand.
Local affiliates did contribute reporters to the CBS crew, but Libin kept Kessler off that detail because he didn’t want him running around picking up the odd quote for Sacramento and Pittsburgh.
So what will the man do with his free time? Kessler will conduct nightly “Reality Checks,” his popular and lively fact-vetting. A particular report might not have that sense of urgency — tonight’s is on taxpayers ponying up $50 million per convention — but he hopes as news happens, he’ll be a sort of media Rapid Response.
“When you’re at a convention, you’re in a bubble, working on your own story,” Kessler notes, but since he’s now aggressively monitoring coverage, “I know more about what’s going on there not being there. That feels odd to me.”
Kessler says that while WCCO may have been too cool about convention coverage, his long-ago employer, Minnesota Public Radio, might be too hot. “They’re sending what, like 20 people? Is there such a thing as too much local coverage?” he asks.
MPR: Going big before they go home
MPR News Director Bill Wareham confirms that he’s sent what might be the network’s biggest convention crew ever to Denver, but justifies it on several levels.
First, politics is arguably more central to MPR’s mission that for any major local news outlet. “You can compare what we do in a couple of weeks to what KSTP does for Twins games,” Wareham says. “This is our franchise, our sports if you will.”
Second, MPR wanted to give Democrats something approaching the saturation political coverage that Republicans will get for being here.
Third, Kerri Miller’s “Mid-Morning” is originating from the Mile High City, so MPR sent more technical people than just its usual crew of reporters.
MPR has had its own spending slowdown lately, but Wareham says the line item for convention coverage has been set aside for months. Most of MPR’s recent layoffs have occurred outside of Wareham’s budget (primarily in the American Public Media show “Weekend America”) though the newsroom closed its Sioux Falls bureau and laid off one part-timer.