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Post-Eichten: Why MPR isn’t live-broadcasting Minnesota GOP and DFL conventions

An icon’s retirement, social networking’s rise, money and good old news judgment play a part.

Like listening to a good baseball announcer call a boring game, a lot of the pleasure of MPR convention coverage was listening to the sly, sharp Eichten draw out politicos.

Love it or hate it, an indelible part of MPR’s branding is political obsession – epitomized by live, hours-upon-hours broadcasting from Minnesota’s Republican and DFL conventions. But for the first time since Wendell Anderson was governor, MPR will cover a gathering conventionally … with reporters filing stories to scheduled shows.

The move (first reported by Blois Olson’s “Morning Take”) is yet another sign of the post-Gary-Eichten MPR. Like listening to a good baseball announcer call a boring game, a lot of the pleasure was listening to the sly, sharp Eichten draw out politicos. However, he retired in January.

Eichten’s latter years were marked by social networking’s rise. As much as this political junkie enjoyed being able to check in on the goings-on whenever he wanted, Twitter provides the jolt of news immediacy and minutiae to get the hard-cores through the day. There’s no substitute for a great interview or news report, but MPR will still be doing those with three (tweeting) reporters on this weekend’s Republican-convention floor.

Covering two conventions without a phalanx of producers and technical staff will save some bucks, though it’s unclear how much finances played a part. One MPR staffer (who can’t be named because the spokespeople may be armed) mentioned an operating deficit discussed at a staff meeting earlier this year.

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MPR spokesperson Mary Sutherland, fielding questions for the newsroom, said the actual deficit figure I shot at her was “not accurate,” adding “We’re committed to being good stewards of our resources and the trust our members, underwriters and sponsors place in us. That means managing our budgets in the best way possible so as to fulfill our mission. We’re on track with those efforts.”

(I believe MPR spokesfolk read this statement from a wristband, like NFL quarterbacks.)

MPR, by the way, is sending reporters to this year’s national political conventions, so it’s not like they’re broke. If I was going to cut any expense, I’d start there, because those are truly made-for-TV beauty pageants … Minnesota conventions at least have contested endorsements.

Which brings us to news judgment. Sutherland — who laughably contends “not much has changed” for this year’s coverage — adds that “over the years, we’ve adjusted the amount of live coverage from the state political conventions based on their news value, the day of the week and time of day.”

There’s little doubt that this is a less-than-epochal year, convention-wise. At the moment, Minnesota does not look like a swing Presidential state, DFL Sen. Amy Klobuchar is an overwhelming re-election favorite, and there’s no governor’s race. There are two potentially compelling storylines at the GOP gathering — the battle between Ron Paul delegates and traditional conservatives, and whether the Paul wave can lift little-known state Rep. Kurt Bills to the Senate endorsement.

But a Libertarian summer crush and a probable sacrificial lamb are only so world-altering, so MPR will opt instead for whatever mutton Lynne Rossetto Kasper is whipping up.