TOPICS > Politics

How Media Coverage of the Political Conventions Has Shifted to Cable, Online

August 23, 2012 at 12:00 AM EDT
Jeffrey Brown talks to CNN's Howard Kurtz and Daily Download's Lauren Ashburn about how politics are being discussed in the digital world, including Todd Akin's remarks on rape and abortion, the upcoming Republican National Convention and how media coverage of political conventions has changed.

JEFFREY BROWN: The campaign moves into convention mode next week and we along with it. And this time around, the Internet and social media will be major players in how it all shakes out.

That’s the theme for our regular look at that intersecting world of digital media and politics. And, as always, we’re joined by two journalists from the website Daily Download.

Lauren Ashburn is the site’s editor in chief. Howard Kurtz is the “Newsweek”‘s Washington bureau chief and host of CNN’s “Reliable Sources.”

Welcome back.

HOWARD KURTZ, “Newsweek”/CNN: Thank you.


JEFFREY BROWN: Before we get to the conventions, I want to talk about the big political news story of the week, right? That was Congressman Todd Akin, what he said about rape, the aftermath. A lot of it played out, Lauren, on social media.

LAUREN ASHBURN: Online, yes. A lot of it was nasty, too.

A lot of journalists weighed in, including Sean Hannity from FOX News, who said that — he tweeted, “Ann Coulter told me she feels Todd Akin is the most selfish man in politics.” That’s because despite the fact that Mitt Romney called for him to pull out of the race and many others did, he won’t.

HOWARD KURTZ: And ABC’s Jake Tapper, to take another example from Twitter, says, “Who would be less welcome at the Republican Convention, Todd Akin or Hurricane Isaac?”

But also online chatter about Paul Ryan, Mitt Romney’s running mate, because his position and Todd Akin’s position on banning abortion with no exception for rape are the same. And so Ryan has been kind of pulled into this controversy, at least online.

JEFFREY BROWN: This is another example of just how this kind of story has a life of its own, aside from television, aside from the newspapers.

HOWARD KURTZ: Absolutely.


All right, so to the conventions, where we are all going to be, right, in Tampa next week.


JEFFREY BROWN: These are ancient institutions in American political terms, right, but now in a very new age.

LAUREN ASHBURN: Very new age.

And the RNC, the Republican National Committee, actually sent out a press release saying it was going to be the most digital convention ever, obviously. In 2004, Twitter and iPhones were in their infancy, and apps were sort of just a blip, hadn’t even really been developed. Well…

JEFFREY BROWN: We have got a graphic where they show the difference, right?

LAUREN ASHBURN: We do have a graphic. Yes, look at Twitter. In 2008, on Election Day, there were 1.8 million tweets. The daily average in 2012, 400 million. So the difference is just night and day.

HOWARD KURTZ: And Twitter will have a team at both conventions and Facebook is also sending people to talk to journalists and developers. So they will be a real presence in both Tampa and Charlotte.

JEFFREY BROWN: Of course, the interesting thing here is the spontaneity, right, and the immediacy of that kind of communication really contrasts with what these conventions have become, in a sense. Right?


It used to be that conventions made news. Well, now I think you can make news yourself on social media. Facebook is really — has their politics in government team braced to make this a really vibrant experience on Facebook. And the way that they’re doing that is they’re — they have a place for everybody to upload.

You can share what you’re doing. They have apps and drinks events where people will be there to show you how to use different apps. And then the RNC has put together an app that has live convention coverage, maps, transportation, local news, interactive trivia games and even a scavenger hunt.

HOWARD KURTZ: I found that to be kind of on the dull side. It seemed more like a bulletin board. You could also buy T-shirts and tote bags. And the only interactive thing you could do I found was to post a picture.

But at the same time, it seems to me that these are no longer primarily television shows. As you know, the ratings have been declining for years.

And so now people, whether they are going on Facebook or Twitter to the RNC app or to the live streaming that both parties are going to do — and I understand PBS that is going to do — people want it when they want it and not necessarily in a television box.

JEFFREY BROWN: Well, but flesh that out a little bit because it’s interesting to us, of course. We’re covering it for television and online with the live streaming.

You have watched television for a long time and covered the industry. You’re saying in many ways this is — no longer should be seen as a television event, per se?

HOWARD KURTZ: The broadcast networks have basically abandoned the field. They have only have one roughly one hour a night on the last three nights of the Republican Convention, not even carrying the first night, when Ann Romney tentatively is scheduled to speak.

So, it’s become more of a cable news event, more of a PBS event and increasingly now more of an online event, a blog event, a social media event. That’s another way of getting the message out, but it’s very different than sitting down with the Walter Cronkite or Huntley and Brinkley.

LAUREN ASHBURN: And that allows people who are in their living rooms not watching television to dip in and out of the convention experience.

HOWARD KURTZ: And to engage with their friends I think is a point we ought to emphasize.

LAUREN ASHBURN: Sure. There’s an…

JEFFREY BROWN: No, go ahead.

LAUREN ASHBURN: No, I’m sorry.

There’s an ‘I’m Voting’ app that Facebook has put together, so you can on your Facebook page say I’m voting for Barack Obama or Mitt Romney and then you share that with all of your friends.

JEFFREY BROWN: I was just thinking that this is affecting so many different events.

Last week on the program, I talked to Jim Lehrer about the debate that he will be moderating, right? And one of the questions is the role of a debate in the age of social media. So — and you are saying conventions clearly are affected.

HOWARD KURTZ: Well, but I think the debates, those three debates still — and the vice presidential debate — still are genuine television events because we don’t know what are going to happen. They’re unscripted.

The conventions have become so tightly choreographed that it is — 15,000 journalists are going down, including us. They are going to be hard-pressed to find news. So it makes sense that people would want to perhaps share the experience with their friends. It becomes more of a social and cultural event, as opposed to purely receiving political information.

LAUREN ASHBURN: And it gives journalists something to do, other than wait around for the evening to happen. They can tweet, hey, I saw so and so and this is happening and that is happening. And it actually gets on — out on the radar of people.

HOWARD KURTZ: And post live video and do all kinds of things that you couldn’t even think about four years ago.

JEFFREY BROWN: All right, we will be there. See you down in Tampa.

Lauren Ashburn, Howard Kurtz, as always, thanks.

HOWARD KURTZ: Thanks, Jeff.