Leaders of the two major political parties traded jabs late last July with broadcast journalists at a preconvention conference in Philadelphia sponsored by the Joan Shorenstein Center on the Press, Politics and Public Policy.
Two major questions emerged in the course of the lively discussion: Do the networks have a social responsibility to expand their coverage of the conventions even if they are losing money? Are the Democratic and Republican leaders responsible for reduced news coverage of their conventions since they eliminated all suspense? The event, on the eve of the Republican National Convention, was a product of the Shorenstein Center's Vanishing Voter Project to study and invigorate the American electoral process.
As late as 1976, according to Vanishing Voter Co-Director Tom Patterson, the three major networks provided more than 50 hours of convention coverage. In 2000, broadcast had shrunk to 12 hours of coverage with 5 hours or less of airtime expected this year.
Journalists on the panel said the reduced airtime was warranted because today's conventions are little more than infomercials. "All the excitement has been drained from these events," said Tom Brokaw, anchor and managing editor of "NBC Nightly News with Tom Brokaw."
But party leaders said the media had a social responsibility to provide thorough coverage. "It is not asking too much to cover four nights every four years, " said Jim Nicholson, chair of the Republican National Committee. Judy Woodruff, anchor of CNN's election coverage, said that the networks do have a responsibility. This particular election is critical because there is so much at stake for the country.