The Denver media gets ready for its DNC close-up

It was all glibness and grins at a recent press conference announcing the plan to give away tickets for presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama's August 28 acceptance speech at Invesco Field at Mile High — at least in the beginning.

Democratic National Convention Committee CEO Leah Daughtry — flanked by former Denver mayor Federico Peña and Colorado governor Bill Ritter, both cast in cheerleader roles — gushed about how more than half the seats at Invesco would be designated for Colorado residents. But when the assembled media began inquiring about details, Daughtry's smile faded. Finally, after admitting that measures intended to prevent passes from being resold or given to others pivoted in part on "a little bit of trust," she abruptly ended the press conference and split.

Of course, these questions didn't go away, especially after some campaign workers started implying to applicants that they might not get in unless they committed to at least six hours of volunteer work for the Obama campaign — this after Daughtry had publicly insisted that no such requirement existed. Then again, she was hardly the only person who's proved less than forthcoming. The Denver cops kept mum about a warehouse set up to hold protesters in case of mass arrests until Channel 4's Rick Sallinger stumbled upon it. Afterward, police spokesmen swore they'd been planning to inform the public.

There's a very good chance that any unrest will be less sweeping than advertised. But if the warehouse winds up stuffed to overflowing with humanity, the journalism community at large will be perversely grateful, for very understandable reasons. Once upon a time, political conventions were raucous and unpredictable affairs. Since the catastrophic 1968 Democratic get-together in Chicago, however, parties have endeavored to make them as unsurprising as possible. Hence, the DNC will be a carefully stage-managed photo opportunity at which unexpected twists are about as likely as a John Edwards sighting.

No wonder media organizations from elsewhere are far less excited about the bash than is the Denver Metro Convention & Visitors Bureau. Forbes.com recently reported that because of today's difficult financial environment, virtually every major news organization is cutting back on the number of people they're sending to witness the DNC, as well as the subsequent Republican National Convention in Minneapolis-St. Paul, compared to years past — most by around 20 percent. And Slate media columnist Jack Shafer thinks the reductions don't go nearly far enough. Shafer argues that journos should boycott the conventions entirely, since "these political gatherings tend to produce very little real news." If the reporters were withdrawn, he writes, it would "force the curious to rely on a C-SPAN feed."

Masochists could also turn to Denver-based info-providers, all of which are boasting about the resources they're committing to DNC coverage. For instance, 9News is promising (or is that threatening?) a whopping sixty hours of DNC ephemera, while the Denver Post has declared that a hundred staffers will be on the case — and thank goodness, since they'll need to fill giant World Series-like wraparound sections.

Such a prospect is downright frightening partly because of stuff the papers have already printed — like oodles of ballyhoo about celebrity-packed parties the average person won't be able to attend. Granted, the Rocky Mountain News assembled at least one interesting preview series: "Unconventional Wisdom," built upon extended interviews with past powerhouses like George McGovern. But it's also subjecting its readership to "Civic Center Blues," in which over-writer James Meadow spends day after day cataloguing the area's detritus, including human waste and pigeon crap. If the convention ends with Meadow threatening to leap from the Pepsi Center's roof, you'll know why.

At least reporters can look forward to Obama's appearance at Invesco. Thanks to its relatively late addition to the itinerary — not to mention the vastness of its scale — the speech presents a rare element of unpredictability. That probably terrifies Daughtry, but it may turn out to be the DNC's saving grace.

 
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