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Tampa Bay Times editor offers detailed look at newspaper's plans for RNC coverage

With tens of thousands of delegates, politicians, protesters and media representatives in town for the Republican National Convention, much of the country’s attention will be focused on Tampa.

CHERIE DIEZ | Times

With tens of thousands of delegates, politicians, protesters and media representatives in town for the Republican National Convention, much of the country’s attention will be focused on Tampa.

History will be made in Tampa next week. Wet or dry.

If you're unsure of that, I suspect you'll hear about it from some of the 15,000 journalists — 15,000! — credentialed to roam Tampa Bay to chronicle the deeds and delights of the Republican National Convention.

The festivities culminate when Republicans officially nominate Mitt Romney for president. Some 40 million people worldwide are expected to watch his acceptance speech Thursday night from the Tampa Bay Times Forum. If Isaac spoils the plans — well, that would be historic, too.

The looming storm may increase the history quotient of this convention. But long before the tropics stirred, the Tampa Bay Times set into motion political and local journalism worthy of the campaign trail dramas and the unprecedented preparations now at full throttle around our metropolitan area.

There are unknown storylines still to be discovered. As the largest news organization in the largest presidential battleground state, the Times is committed to world class coverage as they unfold. To accomplish that mission:

• We have joined with POLITICO, the nationally acclaimed political news organization, to produce a 20-page convention special report Sunday through Friday. The Times will produce the section, which will be co-branded and will wrap around the regular newspaper. The convention report will feature local and national coverage from both Pulitzer Prize-winning newsrooms, which have been collaborating for more than a year.

POLITICO — working hand-in-glove with the Tampa Bay Times — is going to allow both publications the ability to dominate this event in a way that no competitor will be able to match,'' said John F. Harris, POLITICO's editor-in-chief.

• The Times has deployed 150 staff reporters, editors, photographers and artists throughout Tampa Bay to capture the pageantry, the protests, the politicians and the parties. Their work will be polished by dozens more editors and designers. Tampa has been converted into part political theme park, part television studio; Times journalists will chronicle the spectacle in words, pictures, video and tweets. That same Times force is mobilizing as we speak to cover the effects of Isaac on Tampa Bay and Florida.

• Our prize-winning fact-checking operation, PolitiFact.com, will be at the convention to hold the politicians and the protesters accountable for what they say. We will publish daily fact checks in the paper and on the website, and let readers know how both Republican lawmakers and President Barack Obama have fared on their campaign promises.

• The Times has joined a Huffington Post initiative called "Opportunity: What is Working," which seeks to share stories of business and academic leaders growing and creating jobs in this down-economy. Business columnist Robert Trigaux will feature three Tampa Bay success stories in this Sunday's paper and on the Opportunities channel at HuffingtonPost.com, providing national exposure to those endeavors and the Tampa Bay region.

• We have launched The Big Tent, a hugely entertaining blog by staff writer Michael Kruse. He collects commentary, offbeat items and funny images and directs a running conversation about the RNC experience, turning every reader into an insider. Meanwhile, our photo staff will vividly tell stories in images via an online photo album called Convention in a Snap. Find them both at tampabay.com/rnc-2012.

The extraordinary attention that all the cameras and thousands of journalists, bloggers and TV personalities bring to the region is central to the allure in hosting a political convention. And with it comes sizable PR risk. (See Storm, Isaac).

Ken Jones, the president and CEO of the 2012 Tampa Bay Host Committee, acknowledged as much when, in a radio interview before Isaac took aim our way, he said: "We need to give the media what we call nutritional value. They've got to have the ability to write good things about Tampa while they're here and not talk about hurricanes, let's say." Meanwhile, Tampa has been called "hot and horrible" on the Daily Show, the usual but hardly imaginative city-as-strip-club-haven stories have been written, and another national website called Tampa "seedy."

That all goes with the territory. Count on gorgeous waterfront images full of colorful Americana warmth to find plenty of air time as well.

At the Times our contingent of reporters has been at this story since before Tampa landed the convention nearly 2 ½ years ago. We've scored scoops, published dozens of stories and graphics on logistics, protests and public safety, produced two special sections, and even hired real elephants to festively illustrate our work. We are moved by neither hometown desires to spin a positive yarn nor the trappings of quick-hit stereotyping by visitors.

Our motivation is to get you the information you need and plenty more you may want. We aim to guide you as you participate in the election ahead, help you navigate the streets of Tampa Bay amid 50,000 conventioneers and stand by you through the difficulty and recovery if a tropical storm finds its way here.

So how much history will be made in the next few days?

Wednesday, as Isaac looked to be more of a problem than a theory, I pulled out our 10-page hurricane coverage plan and added it to my RNC coverage folder. The hurricane plan details how we can safely and effectively get helpful information out to our fellow citizens.

Point four of the memo makes sense for conventions or bad weather: "Expect the unexpected."

What to watch for

Adam Smith is our political editor. Tampa City Hall reporter Rick Danielson is our point man on local coverage of the RNC. Photojournalist Melissa Lyttle is shadowing the protesters, and Eric Deggans is our TV/media critic. I asked them what to look for after the opening gavel.

Danielson: "I love how this story touches everything in the Tampa Bay area — everywhere you look, there's a story. I'm intrigued by what the convention will reveal about the area's self-image, aspirations and insecurities."

Lyttle: "I'd like to hope everything could remain peaceful and calm, but I have a feeling it's going to be mass chaos. As a journalist, that's both scary and exciting. It's like with a storm — you don't know what you've got till it's here and you're in the middle of it."

Deggans: "Keep an eye out for the influence of social media. Everything that happens will instantly become public. It'll be interesting to see how that affects the party's ability to put out a consistent message over a four-day convention."

Smith: "It's a classic storyline: Can Mitt Romney make a genuine connection with his party and with independents? If he generates real excitement in Tampa, he'll help his chances everywhere.''

Tampa Bay Times editor offers detailed look at newspaper's plans for RNC coverage 08/23/12 [Last modified: Friday, August 24, 2012 8:16am]
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