It would be easy to get pulled in by the immensity of the show that is the Republican National Convention. Fusion has, after all, titled its coverage of the convention The Trump Show. Their crew shares the Quicken Loans Arena space with thousands of delegates and about 15,000 credentialed journalists. They have spent days inside the Q, as it’s called, witnessing spectacle after unique spectacle. How easy it would be to convince yourself, and in turn your audience, that this convention is The Most Important Thing To Happen in the World Ever?
Fusion host Alicia Menendez, who is anchoring coverage of the RNC along with Jorge Ramos, is not having it. She’s maintaining her perspective, for her own and her audience’s sake, reminding them throughout that “these conventions are highly produced sales pitches, and continually com[ing] back to that in addition to exploring the issues.”
The issues being explored may look a little different from the concerns of other networks. Fusion’s audience isn’t just the generically understood millennial generation, but millennials in all their racial, ethnic and gender diversity, which is why what is not being discussed by the political establishment is often as important as what is. With Fusion itself, in the words of CEO Isaac Lee, a “majority-minority company,” that understanding is in part experientially derived.
“As someone who processes news and information through a generational lens,” Menendez tells FishbowlDC about Tuesday night’s coverage, the ostensible focus of which was the economy, “I thought it was really interesting that they didn’t have a single speaker that I felt was geared towards a millennial economic message, meaning that nobody talked about college affordability, no one talked about student debt and how those issues tie to other economic issues for millennials like employment, underemployment, home ownership.”
Menendez talked with FishbowlDC about her thoughts on the convention and Fusion’s approach to covering the convention, as well as the election itself.
FishbowlDC: What are your impressions of the RNC so far?
Alicia Menendez: I think as media covering it we expected the big story to really be outside the convention hall and so far its been relatively quiet, relatively peaceful. I still think there’s a lot of time between now and the end for things to heat up.
When you’re inside the convention hall itself, even during primetime, it is lower energy than what I’d expect, so that right now is what I’m walking away with. A lot of calls for unity and for enthusiasm, and I’m not sure whether or not they were actually able to stir that.
It’s a party struggling for unity, and I think that even with the party in search of unity, the lack of cohesion is contributing to the lack of energy and enthusiasm in the room.
FBDC: What has your coverage focus been?
Menendez: I think we wanted to be really honest about the fact that while these conventions are important, and there are critical issues being discussed, like safety, security and the economy, these are fundamentally shows. Both the RNC and the DNC are designed to sell voters on their respective parties’ candidates.
FBDC: So much of the coverage of this election in general has been portrayed in this entertainment perspective, as if that’s a positive thing.
Menendez: A lot of the production value is in line with Donald Trump’s style–that grand entrance that he had on Monday night when Melania [Trump] spoke, a lot of the videos that have been produced and interspersed, and I think part of the reason that people are focusing on that is because it really does reflect the candidate that the party is selling.
FBDC: What have been some of the underreported stories that you have focused on during this election cycle?
Menendez: We’ve been doing focus groups since the primaries, we’ve done them all over the country and recently we did one in Florida with young Democrats who are not sure they can support Hillary Clinton and young Republicans who are not sure they can support Donald Trump. What I found so interesting as a takeaway from that focus group was the fact that young people are very engaged in this election, pay close attention. They’re paying close attention to policy, which I often think is underrepresented and under-reflected in mainstream media, and even those who are not sure they can vote for one of the two major party nominees guarantee that they will show up on election day and vote for someone even if they have to write in a candidate of their choosing.
That to me is a very positive message about this election that gets lost in the breathless commentary over the fact that we have two candidates with high unfavorable ratings.
FBDC: And at the convention?
Menendez: We’ve been doing a lot of coverage of the immigrant right groups that are here and are protesting outside, clearly a big issue for our audience. Also taking some sort of fun and unexpected angles; my colleague Dan Lieberman was at a beauty salon that was frequented by Slovenian immigrants–Cleveland actually has the largest population of Slovenian immigrants in the United States—and to hear these women respond to Melania, who was originally born in Slovenia, to listen to her speech, was fun and unexpected and not what you were getting from everywhere else, which is I think is really our mandate to deliver.
FBDC: How has it been working with Jorge Ramos on covering the RNC?
Menendez: Jorge’s the best. He just brings such a unique perspective to our coverage because he’s been to many of these conventions, he’s able to compare them to conventions past, and he is also not shy about asserting some of the challenges that the GOP faces going into November when it comes to persuading and mobilizing a 21st century America. So I think some of the color and commentary that he has been able to offer–it forces you to look at the convention through a different lens.
FBDC:: Fusion’s target audience of diverse millennials is a group that can lead outlets to apply one-size-fits-all generalizations and to pander. How do you avoid that in your coverage?
Menendez: I think we’re so lucky to have a young and diverse staff. I think so often we focus on the people who are in front of the camera when the team that is producing this, both at our headquarters in the control room and here on the ground in Cleveland, are of the generation, racially and ethnically diverse, good gender balance, and we try to look at things through the lens of, what do we care about, what would we want to hear about, how would we want to see this covered and allow that to be our North Star. And if we do that and continue to gut check against that, then we can deliver something that our audience really cares about.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.