CBS, NBC and ABC announce just three hours of primetime convention coverage; in new media world, does it matter?
Here at Ground Zero of the Republican National Convention, news that big broadcast TV networks ABC, CBS and NBC will only air three hours of event coverage in prime time may surprise those who know an estimated 15,000 journalists are expected to hit Tampa next week.
But there is at least one guy who expected this: former CBS News anchor Dan Rather.
"It a new media environment; should anyone be (upset) about it? Probably not," said Rather, who was famously shown getting punched while trying to interview a delegate being ejected from the 1968 Democratic convention. "The parties have chosen to make them into pretty much an infomercial....four nights of spin. And because the parties have made them into an infomercial, no one can blame the networks for saying it's expensive to staff and cutting back makes sense."
CBS and NBC announced coverage plans on Monday; ABC revealed its schedule last week. All networks plan an hour of RNC coverage in prime time at 10 p.m. each night from Aug. 28 to Aug. 30, with the same amount of time allotted for coverage of the Democratic gathering (though NBC is taking a break on Sept. 5 for a football game).
See CBS' full plans here and NBC's full plans with Spanish-language broadcasters Telemundo here.
CBS and NBC, which announced their schedules Monday, will air their Sunday shows, Meet the Press and Face the Nation from Tampa on Sunday. Editions of every network's morning shows and evening newscasts will also air from Tampa during the week, broadcasting from the Tampa Bay Times Forum.
Each channel will bring their stars to town, with Today anchor Matt Lauer, Nightly News anchor Brian Williams and semi retired anchor Tom Brokaw on NBC; Scott Pelley, Norah O'Donnell, Bob Schieffer and Charlie Rose here for CBS, and Diane Sawyer, George Stephanopoulos, Terry Moran and Jake Tapper on hand for ABC.
But at a time when the three big cable newschannels plans loads of coverage, PBS and C-SPAN offer gavel-to-gavel, commercial-free coverage, -- along with online outlets such as BuzzFeed and Huffington Post -- the sense of loss due to cutbacks on network TV isn't as acute.
Indeed, network TV's coverage patterns mirror those of 2004, when the networks also offered an hour each night over three nights. In 2008, plans to present four hours over four nights at the RNC were disrupted by the impact of Hurricane Gustav on the first night.
Tom Rosenstiel, head of the Washington D.C-based journalism think tank the Project for Excellence in Journalism, notes the times are quite different from the days when convention coverage made journalists' reputations and established networks as trusted news sources.
Venerated CBS anchor Walter Cronkite may have earned his reputation that way, but now conventions are more important for cable newschannels catering to political junkies.
And the narrow broadcast windows of networks ironically give more influence to the political parties, which can pack the 10 p.m. hour with content the networks are pushed to air with little analysis, Rosenstiel added.
"In this game of cat and mouse with the parties, in an effort to not give them free airtime, we've seen a trend toward giving parties more control," Rosenstiel said.
Rather, anchor and managing editor for Dan Rather Reports on AXS TV (formerly known as HDNet), said he doesn't expect to present any coverage from Tampa, though he will stop by.
"A lot of best campaign sources will be in Tampa and its always good to keep in touch," said the anchor, who predicted such conventions might even be cut back by the parties themselves in years to come. "But part of our criteria for broadcast is 'Can we bring added value?' My inclination is, probably not."