Friday, July 29, 2016

DNC a contrast to RNC in oh-so-many ways

The journalists started complaining almost immediately after leaving the Republican National Convention in Cleveland and arriving in Philadelphia, where the logistics made it much harder to do their jobs at the Democratic National Convention. Huge lineups for food, transportation nightmares and other challenges contributed to this. Then there's the attitude thing, of which this collection of tweets is one example. Gotta love the City of Brotherly Love!

The biggest difference between the two conventions, however, was in the diversity of people at the DNC and the relative whiteness of RNC convention-goers. The RNC worked hard to arrange racial and ethnic diversity in their speakers, but not much could be done to make their delegates look like a cross-section of Americans.

Equally different was the tone. People spoke of love! Togetherness. The worth and dignity of every person. It was a stark contrast to last week's harshly critical tone about everyone, it seemed, except Donald Trump. And of course, Ronald Reagan.

For me, as a feminist and women's college graduate, it was the fulfillment of a longtime dream to see Hillary Clinton step forward into the spotlight at the end of the DNC and accept the nomination. The pundits Thursday night who disparaged her speech were men. Perhaps they didn't catch the wave of  feeling, which for me was absolutely thrilling. Looking at the faces of the women and girls in the Wells Fargo Arena in Philadelphia, I saw the thrill reflected there too. I even saw it in women who were reporting on the event, who looked suddenly radiant. The men, for the most part, didn't seem to catch that wave, though I did see some who clearly did. For the others, that's okay. They already know what it feels like to identify with a candidate. For us, it was new and wonderful. My grandson even thinks I look like Hillary, which adds to that feeling of identification.

I still remember what it felt like to see other "firsts" for women: the first Canadian woman to go into space as an astronaut, Roberta Bondar, and our first female prime minister, Kim Campbell. It doesn't happen every day. The image of Hillary shattering the glass ceiling on Tuesday night, in the video played after her roll-call nomination was complete, was right on. It made an impact like that for all of us who have waited so long.

My students returned to the classroom this week, after internships and volunteer work at the RNC, filled with enthusiasm and stories. This week, they were writing papers and stories based on research about past conventions, along with interviews and observations done at this one. In lectures and class discussions, plus a visit to our class by the very impressive Diane Downing, chief operating officer for the Cleveland RNC Host Committee, we helped each other to analyze what happened at the RNC and compare it to this week's DNC. It was fascinating to hear from the students and see their understanding, both of the politics and of the media coverage, develop over time.

Today, we had the final exam. Monday, we'll receive their final papers and stories. I'm anxious to see how much they learned. I know that I learned a lot!

Sunday, July 24, 2016

Multicultural democracy-fest outside gives the lie to fear-mongering speeches inside at Cleveland's RNC

What a week Cleveland had! A roaring success both inside and outside the Quicken Loans Arena. Those are the sentiments here on the ground, from local media and my current (and former) students who were out there, blogging and tweeting from the streets (@vivacarlitos_ and @ChenkusNews on Twitter) and recounting their experiences at volunteer activities with the Republican Party (Alexya, Tim, Olivia, Andy) and national media internships with ABC, NBC and PBS (Julie, Will, Jack, Chris, Alec).
Alec Chenkus at his internship with PBS's
Religion & Ethics Newsweekly. Photo from the show's website.

Then there was Peter, who saw the RNC through the eyes of a youth choir, the Singing Angels, who sang the national anthem at the start of the convention and appeared on the "Today Show," among other triumphs.

Media internships, in some cases, prevented students from blogging and tweeting. So I'm eagerly anticipating tomorrow's class, where we'll hear from them as well as a non- class-member who was at NBC for the week and Ashley Bastock, a recent graduate now at NBC's "Meet the Press," who will talk to us by Skype.

Media are now making the turn to the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia, but at the end of the RNC, most described Donald Trump's acceptance speech as "dark" or even "dystopian."'s Chris Quinn, speaking on the WVIZ show Ideas, contrasted the fear-inducing view of America from inside the convention hall with the multicultural, free-speaking love-fest going on outside for most of the week.

Yes, some confrontational rhetoric and one flag-burning did occur, but it was all cool and people got along just fine with a lot of help (and apparently, no undue force) from police. Pictures of police and protesters hugging one another, police bicycle brigades using "soft force" to control crowds, Chief Calvin Williams out there at almost every scene that might have turned into violence, calming the crowds with his officers, and controlled shouting matches between opposing groups who expressed themselves without violence or mayhem, gave the lie to the fear-mongering speeches going on inside the convention hall.

And that's all I have to say about how it went down.

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Day 3 through the eyes of my students and their media

Today, I'm taking a different approach to my RNC blog. Rather than analyzing mainstream media coverage of the previous day at the Republication National Convention in Cleveland, I am analyzing my students' blogs and tweets, which have kept me on top of what's going on downtown. I feel like an editor, here in my home office, watching on several TV networks while they brave the downtown streets, the inside of the Quicken Loans Arena, and the booths in Media Row, where most have internships and volunteer jobs.

Because some of their blogs are not public -- they're just learning to blog and have that option in this class, especially those who are not budding journalists -- I will use first names for everyone but I'll link to each blog so you, my readers, can check it out for yourselves. If they're not public, the links won't work. (Since I have access to all, I can't always tell if they're public.) Most are public.

Live action on the streets really picked up yesterday, Day 3 of the convention, with the most-noted protest an anti-Trump wall, made of fabric, that demonstrators stretched across public square and nearby streets, if I got this correctly. Carlos (@vivacarlitos_) and Alec (@ChenkusNews), who are live tweeting from the streets whenever they can (working around a job and an internship), are capturing great and not-so-great moments and interviewing interesting characters, using cellphone video, photographs and 140-character tweets.

Alec is also blogging about his take on the convention, this week from the perspective of his internship with PBS's Religion and Ethics Newsweekly -- a fascinating experience in which he has spent a day with the Nuns on the Bus, another at a luncheon with speaker Rick Perry (two other headliners cancelled at the last minute).

Peter, a mature student and longtime Cleveland resident, has a blog with a unique take on the convention: He is seeing it all through he eyes of the Singing Angels, a youth choir that has been "serenading the elephant" (as Peter puts it) at various locations, from the airport to concert halls, to what probably is the high point: singing the national anthem on the opening night in the Quicken Loans Arena, a performance broadcast on several national media with millions of viewers.

Another special perspective is Alexya's. A foreign student from Belize, she is accustomed to a parliamentary system and other factors that make that country's political system very different. Her blog is a fascinating take on American politics. It's also a firsthand account of the life of a lowly convention volunteer, checking credentials at the doors and catching occasional glimpses of famous people.

Olivia, a political science major, is doing some terrific political analysis. She's upset that Ohio Gov. John Kasich hasn't shown up at the convention, and that Melania Trump plagiarized portions of Michelle Obama's speech from 2008. She also writes about her experience as a Cleveland Ambassador, a volunteer for the RNC Host Committee who greets delegates and answers their questions.

Caitlin, another political scientist, has some great analysis too. In today's entry, she notes that Donald Trump is not staying in Cleveland, but flies home to New York City every night, rather than using this as an opportunity to get to know some of the "regular folks" he professes to care so much about. Her blog is full of original thoughts.

Will, whose major is also political science, does some analysis of the fallout and repercussions of the Melania Trump plagiarism scandal, which he notes has carried on longer than necessary due to unprofessional handling by the Trump campaign. He also reviews the "bizarre" speech by Dr. Ben Carson - this is well worth a read.

Andy, whose blog is not public, is a high-school senior taking college courses, and a great addition to the class. He is definitely up to the in-depth political discussions of his classmates and often contributes unique insights. He's volunteering at a local museum that is hosting some convention-related events, but isn't able to see the action on the convention floor, much to his frustration.

Tim, a teacher who is working on a masters degree, brings to his blog the insights of a lifelong Clevelander, who grew up among the kind of working-class folks Donald Trump appeals to. His blog shows great understanding of the relationship of this city and its people to the convention and the nominee. He also has some interesting views on Mike Pence's role as VP. And his latest insights are from the perspective of a bored volunteer, coping with the somewhat disorganized state of things at this convention.

Chris, whose blog is also private, has been analyzing some big questions, such as Why did Marco Rubio Fail?, Why did Bernie Sanders Succeed?, Why is Hawaii so Liberal? and Why did Trump Succeed? in his blog, which shows the expertise of a political science major. He is doing a media internship and very busy!

Media internships have also kept a couple of other students, communication majors Julie and Jack, from keeping up with their blogs during this convention week. I imagine they'll get back to the schedule soon and I'll be able to recommend their work next week. Both did terrific work in the first week of the course, before the convention started.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Day 2: Media Theme is Convention Chaos

Screen shot of the top stories on the New York Times home page at noon on July 20, 2016.

The front page of the New York Times today says it all: "Day 2: Muddled Messages" summarizes a video showing highlights from the previous night's speeches, which were supposed to focus on the day's theme of "Making America Work Again." Did anyone do that? Basically, no.

The speeches focused mostly on bashing Hillary. Only Trump's children seemed to focus on the nominee himself and what he would do in office. This is what the convention is supposed to be about, for those who haven't covered one before. Next week, you'll get to see a professionally run convention: scripted, controlled, and probably boring. But it will give at least an illusion that the candidate is in charge, the messages were planned and consistent, and the campaign is in order.

The PBS Newshour's convention coverage, which featured six professional journalists in a booth overlooking the noisy hall and several more down on the floor doing stand-up interviews with knowledgable folks from the party, had a similar take on the night's events: No one was talking about Trump except his children, and no one was following the theme for the day at all. HOW is Trump going to put Americans back to work at well-paid jobs? Not a word on that, except perhaps a few lines in the speech from Donald Trump, Jr., the candidate's son, who gave arguably the best speech of the night. The one that might launch a new political career. There's one at every convention. Watch for this young man to propel his own rise in politics from this moment.

So what is the takeaway from Trump's rather chaotic second day? His kids love him. They have the courage to get up and speak. And everyone else just hates Hillary. The day's other Most Memorable Speech was by New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (who was supposed to launch his presidential bid from the 2012 RNC, when he got the keynote position, but gave a terrible speech, mostly about himself and not the nominee). Christie's tryout last night for the post of Attorney General in Trump's cabinet (I credit syndicated columnist Mark Shields for this insight) involved a prosecutorial attack, point by relentless point, on Hillary Clinton, with the audience responding "Guilty!" after every point, in response to Christie's cry of "Guilty or not guilty?" But it wasn't about Trump, the person, or his theme of the day.

The media narrative, so far? Chaos reigns at convention and in Trump campaign. The secondary narrative: A party divided.

It is still possible that Trump could pull this limp rabbit, revitalized, out of a hat in his address on Thursday. I foresee one possible way: The "I am my own man and not beholden to anyone" theme. Here's how the argument goes:

  • This campaign was not orchestrated by public relations and marketing folks. 
  • It was done on the cheap. 
  • And the reason is independence. Freedom. Trump is not beholden to anyone. No Wall Street billionaires, oil magnates or even NRA lobbyists are pulling his strings. He is utterly himself. 
  • This was a key ideal of politics in Aristotle's "Politics" and Plato's "Republic," when democracy was just getting started, in ancient Greece: Politicians should be independently wealthy and beholden to no one. 
  • Our system has been corrupted by the aforementioned Wall Street billionaires, oil magnates and NRA lobbyists because of one thing: money. Everyone knows that, when they see House votes on gun control go down to defeat, or fail to even get introduced, despite the fact that 90 percent of the public wants some controls on at least assault weapons, in the hands of the most dangerous people -- the ones on the No Fly list.  

Trump doesn't want that money. And he's willing to put up with a bit of chaos and messy messaging to keep it that way.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

The First Day: How did it go over in the media?

The Quicken Loans Arena, where the action is taking place
Photo by Erik Drost, Creative Commons license

What did I see that I would have written about, as a journalist, on Day 1 of the convention?
  1. A shouting match broke out on the floor of the convention over whether to take a "roll call vote"-- in which each state must express its vote, rather than just the "the chairman says the Ayes have it" system they used, which was so confusing the first time, they had to have a do-over, but not until after the chair (Where is Paul Ryan, who is supposed to be chairing the convention?) actually left the stage without saying where he was going and left everyone shouting and arguing and not knowing what the heck was going to happen next. This vote, BTW, was about whether to adopt "The Rules" to govern the convention, which were pushed through at the committee level last week despite opposition, without listening to the opposition, in an effort to show "unity" in this deeply divided party. Yesterday's attempt to do the same thing on the floor of the convention backfired when the opposition got upset and clearly demonstrated that this party is not unified. In case there was any doubt, when half the party's leaders failed to even show up for the convention. These are facts, by the way, not opinion. It is what happened. 
  2. Melania Trump, who was supposed to be the headline speaker, appears to have plagiarized a few sentences from Michelle Obama's speech from 2008. I only say "appears" because it's not certain that she wrote the speech herself. They might find some junior speechwriter to blame, yet. But this should be a lesson to every student who considers plagiarizing an essay or news story -- don't do it. It takes almost no time for someone to find out. 
  3. Rudy Giuliani was on fire in his speech, which proved to be the highlight of the evening to anyone watching on TV, but perhaps not to people on the floor. I'm not sure. Things are different on TV than in person and, also, people watching it on TV probably aren't obsessed with Benghazi the way committed Republican Trump voters are, and that's who is in the convention center, for the most part. People who are not in that group are well aware that two House committees have investigated Benghazi and pretty much ruled out Hillary Clinton as the author of that misfortune. It's settled. Except for the people who were in the hall last night and those who agree with them -- and we're not sure how many of those there might be. 
  4. The guy from Duck Dynasty was surprisingly good. He got some of the best lines of the night. 
  5. The dominant theme for Day 1, and probably for the Trump campaign, is FEAR. Make everyone terrified so they will vote for a strongman. It's an old, time-honored tactic. Nixon used it. Hitler used it. Mussolini used it. The people in the hall might not be aware of that. They seemed to get riled up over it. And that is probably good for Trump. 
So that's my take on the first day of the RNC in CLE. What did the media do with it? A few thoughts on that: 
  1. First, it's probably the first time the Rules of the convention have ever even been covered by the media. And they were covered -- I saw and heard stories on the 6 p.m. news in very media outlet I managed to view or listen to, that covered this battle as the big news of the day. Believe me, in previous years the journalists didn't even GO to that part of the convention, except for C-SPAN, which is about gavel-to-gavel coverage. Or if the journalists did go, it was to do on-the-floor interviews with congressmen and congresswomen, senators, governors and political candidates that they could not get hold of at any other time. Which they were still doing, but those interviews got disrupted by the floor fight. 
  2. The PBS commentators I watched during the later part of the evening were saying this battle on the floor of the convention was "unprecedented." We know from what Dr. Colin Swearingen has taught us in this course that that isn't true. But you have to go back in history to find contested conventions like this. 
  3. You also have to go back in history to find partisan media of the sort we have today. In the 19th century, all media were aligned with one political party or another. That's the way it was done then. It was only in the 20th century that journalists "professionalized" and started trying to be "objective." They did that so as not to offend advertisers, or any of their readers, who were being delivered to the advertisers. That's how it was done then. Things are changing. 
  4. The best media analysis I have seen so far, of coverage up to yesterday, was done by Trevor Noah on The Daily Show. See it here:
  5. Vox posted another excellent analysis of Day 1 -- not the media coverage, but the day in politics -- that I highly recommend. It is here
  6. The other articles on media coverage that I highly recommend are two content analyses by Harvard's Bradlee Professor of Government and the Press, Thomas E. Patterson. The first paper is about the pre-primary coverage, which is surprisingly important in the overall scheme of things. It's here. The second one is an analysis of the media coverage of the primaries -- this year - which is amazingly fast for academic research! It's here.  
  7. The fact that the Melania Trump plagiarism issue appears to have superseded the Rules uproar as the main story of the day is indicative of the "Orchestra Pit Theory" I talked about in class. That is, as Roger Ailes (who's now apparently parting ways with Fox News after a lawsuit and other allegations of sexual harassment) puts it, 
“It goes like this: a presidential candidate can give the most important speech of his career on a topic that is the number one priority of the voters, but if he falls into the orchestra pit on his way off the stage, all the networks and newspapers will report the stumble and ignore the speech.” 

Saturday, July 16, 2016

An amazing day for me and the students

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Friday was an exciting day for me because I got to see some of my journalistic idols -- Gwen Ifill of PBS and four Washington reporters who gathered with her to discuss the upcoming Republican and Democratic nominating conventions for the show Washington Week. There was a live taping here in Cleveland and, thanks to Dan Cooney, a former John Carroll student who knew how much I love the show, we got tickets for the entire class to attend. Not everyone could go because they all have internships and volunteer work, and some had to be there instead. We had no trouble filling the seats, however!

Gwen Ifill, photo courtesy of PBS NewsHour
Creative Commons license
Washington Week has been around since the 1960s, we learned during an intermission in the taping, between the first, formal half of conversation between the panelists and the second, less formal half when they took questions from the audience. My husband and I have been watching the show since the late 1970s, when it was called Washington Week in Review and hosted by Paul Duke. Things have evolved over the decades and now, it's much fancier and glitzier, but features the same wonderful conversations between journalists who are part of the Washington press corps -- people with a first-hand view of what's going on in the political world. During the years when I was not working as a journalist, but a full-time mother to my two children, I found this show a way to feel connected to the press corps I missed so much. Later, when I got back into journalism, I continued to love the civil, respectful way the reporters discussed key political figures and events each week. Because I worked in the business, my respect for their ability to analyze events and respond to each other's ideas in the glare of the TV lights has actually grown over time. These people are the best in the business.

Watching the taping with my students was a particular joy. I could see that they, too, were impressed. I know, from teaching them every day last week, that this group has a keen interest in politics and follows the news avidly. We have all been learning, this week, about the details of political conventions, their history, why the primaries evolved into public votes, and whether this year's ruptures in the Republican party are unprecedented (not!) though they are unique in some respects. My role in the course is to teach journalism: some techniques for students who are writing stories for my section of the course, and some media analysis, explaining why the media cover the conventions as they do, focus on the stories they choose, where and when they are doing well and where/when they are falling down on the job. My colleague Colin Swearingen, a political science professor, is the expert on the historical and contemporary processes that take place during conventions, the why and how we all find so fascinating. So during his lectures, I am a student who avidly follows his lectures and is learning as much as the rest of the class.

It's a great time to be in Cleveland! Let's hope we continue to feel that way as the RNC unfolds this week!

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Exciting new studies on media coverage of 2016 elections

Today, I want to talk about the studies of media coverage of the 2016 elections that are being published online (open access) by the Shorenstein Center at Harvard University. The first one, available here, studied media coverage before the primaries started, during the period of time known as the "invisible primary" in 2015, when candidates were laying the foundation of their campaigns. It estimated that Donald Trump received $55 million in free, largely favorable media coverage. While other candidates also received free, advertising-equivalent (that is, positive) media coverage, no other candidate approached Trump's level, the nearest being Jeb Bush at $36 million.

Thomas E. Patterson of Harvard's Kennedy School of Government is analyzing the media coverage of this campaign using content analysis, a research method that usually takes years to complete. I am so impressed and pleased that this is being published during the campaign. I hope it will have a corrective effect on the news media, who have not done the best job of informing the public about the candidates.

Patterson hired a firm to do the coding, which is the time-consuming part of content analysis and the thing that usually means it's years later when studies are released. This is true when the coding is done by humans, as was the case for this study. Computerized coding can speed things up, but for this type of analysis, was felt to be unreliable, Patterson writes.

Stories from CBS, Fox, the Los Angeles Times, NBC, The New York TimesUSA TodayThe Wall Street Journal, and The Washington Post were analyzed in the first study (of the pre-primary period) to determine the major themes they contained and whether they were positive or negative in tone. The discovery that Trump's coverage was massive and also more positive in tone than that of other candidates, by far, was the main finding. Patterson comes up with some very interesting possible explanations for that positive coverage at a time when it would have been much more helpful to the democratic process if the news media had done its job of "vetting" the candidate who later ended up sweeping the primaries. 

The second study, available here, covers the first six months of 2016, during the actual primaries. It is equally compelling in its findings, providing excellent data that journalists should heed. It shows both the preponderance and the deficiencies of "horse race" coverage, which focuses obsessively on who is winning and losing the race at any given time, rather than the candidates' qualifications and their most important policy positions. As I like to put it in my lectures, it's a lot like sports coverage, focusing on who's winning and losing, strategies for winning, the many statistics (polls, primary election results and past election results) that provide data about these things, but ignoring the substantive information that voters really need to make decisions about who is fit to be president of the United States. 

So kudos to Professor Patterson and the firm he hired to do the coding -- Media Tenor. These studies are great and timely additions to the public debate, not only about the presidential elections, but also about what's wrong with journalism today.