Media prepare to pour into town for the Republican National Convention

Broadcasters are spending money and making final arrangements to cover the weeklong drama of the RNC.
Published August 20 2012
Updated August 20 2012


sk journalists about the approaching Republican National Convention in Tampa, and sports analogies start flying.

Locally, the best comparison is a hometown Super Bowl, dumping thousands of strangers in town for a huge event. But in this case, the 50,000 expected visitors (and 15,000 journalists) won't leave for nearly a week.

Which means local broadcasters are covering the story of a lifetime, with TV stations spending upwards of $100,000 per outlet for space, phones and Web access at Tampa Bay Times Forum.

One station, ABC affiliate WFTS-Ch. 28, held riot training. Some stations may hire security for equipment and field reporters, wary some demonstrators may target journalists.

Tampa Fox affiliate WTVT-Ch. 13 took out the "Fox" part of the station's "Fox 13" logo on its Skytower radar tower looming over its Kennedy Boulevard headquarters and used black squares to cover the logo on many signs bordering the building — perhaps to confuse protestors at the RNC who might resent the station's connection to conservative-friendly Fox News Channel.

("We're increasing security just like everyone else," said a Fox spokeswoman in New York, who declined to discuss specific measures.)

Most expect to devote nearly all their resources to reporting on the RNC, leaving national news to bigger outlets and focusing on local impact: traffic, protests, visiting celebrities, parties, economic impact and more.

"To be honest, the best thing that can happen to us is four days of rain … no protests," joked Donovan Myrie, a former journalism professor at the University of Tampa, hired short-term by ABC affiliate WFTS just to organize the station's RNC coverage.

WFTS plans a 7 p.m. special Sunday, kicking off a week when newscasts will be anchored from a Times Forum skybox.

News outlets paid more than $25,000 each to use these suites as broadcast booths (organizers requested $9,000 for extra air conditioning, according to WFTS general manager Rich Pegram, who joked "we'll use extra fans.")

CBS affiliate WTSP-Ch.10 originally planned to begin RNC coverage with specials from the Times Forum each weekday beginning at 7:30 tonight.

But those specials will air this week from WTSP's St. Petersburg studios, because the RNC allows no broadcasts from the Times Forum before Sunday.

WTSP is sharing a skybox with USA Today — both outlets are owned by Gannett Corp. — bringing in other Gannett TV staffers, including former CBS anchor Russ Mitchell, now at WKYC in Cleveland.

Next week, WTSP will expand 11 p.m. newscasts to an hour, start morning news at 4:30 a.m. and increase 9 a.m. news to an hour.

One challenge: WTSP airs a preseason Tampa Bay Buccaneers football game on Aug. 29, shifting CBS coverage of vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan's address to their 10.2 alternate digital TV channel.

John Hoffman, vice president and news director at Tampa Fox affiliate WTVT-Ch. 13, said their coverage begins at 10 p.m. Sunday with a 90 minute preview. He expects to benefit from the station's Fox News Channel ties, with reporter Craig Patrick inside the cable news channel's setup at the Tampa Bay History Center (both outlets are owned by Rupert Murdoch's News Corp.)

Don North, news director at NBC affiliate WFLA-Ch. 8, noted "virtually everybody in the news department has a role" in their RNC coverage, which includes broadcasting all regular newscasts from the Times Forum.

"We keep hearing 10,000 to 15,000 protesters may come, but what does that really mean?" he said. "If Mitt Romney wants to come to our booth, we'll be happy to talk with him. But our focus will be the impact on the local community."

Cable news channel Bay News 9 kicks off RNC coverage Sunday with two editions of Political Connections, airing at 11 a.m. and 8 p.m. The show airs at 7 p.m. daily through the convention.

Sharing a skybox with Time Warner, Bay News 9 will team with Orlando's Central Florida News 13 and Spanish-language network InfoMas for coverage (all are owned by Bright House Networks cable system). Their plan includes live reports at the top of each hour, morning and afternoon traffic reports, and broadcasting the convention's major speeches.

On the radio, Tampa NPR affiliate WUSF-FM (89.7) will deploy a team of 27 people, nearly three times its newsroom's usual size.

At 9 a.m. on Friday and through the convention next week, WUSF will air a one-hour version of its public affairs show Florida Matters, hosted by Carson Cooper from the Tampa Convention Center, and a half-hour show at 6:30 p.m. called The Convention Today hosted by Craig Kopp from the Times Forum.

New York NPR station WNYC is bringing its Brian Lehrer Show to Tampa next Monday for four nights of broadcasts at 7, simulcast on WUSF.

Community radio station WMNF-FM (88.5) plans eight hours of daily reports, including Amy Goodman's Democracy Now show at 9 a.m., an 11 a.m. call-in show with news anchor Rob Lorei and coverage by Pacifica Radio from 8 p.m. to 11 p.m.

"It's like you've been training for the Olympics for years and now you're ready to just get on with it," said WTSP news director Peter Roghaar, likely speaking for many local journalists. "We're ready to go."