An Open Letter to the Networks About 2016 Convention Coverage

By Guest Comment

As CNBC finalizes plans for this week’s third GOP primary debate, all the networks are looking ahead to the summer of 2016, when the Republicans head to Cleveland from July 18-21 to nominate their candidate for president, and democrats descend on Philadelphia a week later, from July 25-28, to choose their 2016 nominee.

In the midst of the 2012 conventions, TVNewser ran an open letter from network veteran Marc Rosenwasser to the networks. We’re publishing it again, with revisions, as the networks prepare for 2016 coverage.

To: NBC, ABC, CBS evening news anchors and news presidents
From: Marc Rosenwasser

Hi, all:

I hope you survived the oppressive heat and humidity and found some news to report from the convention. If you did, you and your producers are even more industrious and creative than I thought.

I say that because I went to Tampa to report on the GOP convention and ended up at nothing more than a grand old party.

So when I wandered into one of your huge work spaces and peeked into another, I wondered: what exactly was everyone doing?

It got me thinking: when the summer of 2016 rolls around, maybe you would want to rethink your convention coverage and find a more creative, more meaningful way to spend the hundreds of thousands (millions?) it will cost you to send huge teams to Philadelphia and Cleveland and to house and feed them once they get there. (More about that in a bit.)

Truth is: you could cover much of the story from afar — via a shared pool feed.

Of course, I understand that you don’t want to surrender access to the candidates and top party officials to your competitors. But let’s face it: for all the endless talk about social media and cable, what routinely gets lost in the conversation is that your nightly news programs are still where the numbers are, lopsidedly — a combined nightly audience exceeding 20 million viewers during slow times, many millions more during big news stories. So it’s not as if the candidates and their minions wouldn’t talk to you by remote. They need the platform you offer. (Last time I checked, satellite time was still available. And, of course, you could Skype for nothing!)

If all hell breaks loose and there is finally an unscripted, brokered convention, you could send in reinforcements at the last minute to bolster the 2-3 production teams and online producers you will have already deployed. You’d, of course, know that possibility existed at least a month or two ahead of time, nothing like the pressures you face turning around stories in hours, or sometimes minutes, every day.

And what about those 10 p.m. specials each of you does during the convention? Besides showing the flag, what is their value when so many other news outlets on air and online are offering virtually the same convention coverage you are, all day long, every day, long before your shows hit?

No offense, but the audience has noticed. It seems like the ratings for these specials are exceptionally small.

Even if that were not the case, the bigger question is: when there is typically so little convention news to report and everyone is reporting the very same thing from the very same place, why spend so much money regurgitating the same information that the cable networks, NPR, the print media, social media and PBS are also reporting?

I’m sure your corporate bosses would be happy for you to do less.

All of which has me thinking about the truly great things you could do with your still-considerable resources and reach.

So here’s my idea:

Agree to what amounts to a non-aggression pact and, using only a tiny portion of the millions you collectively would save, join forces and produce a series of nine, one-hour documentaries airing between Labor Day and Election Day that would explore “The Great Issues” facing the nation. ABC, for instance, could produce and air shows 1, 4 and 7; CBS could do shows 2, 5 and 8, and NBC 3, 6 or 9 — or something like that. Agree to run them at a common time for the nine-week period (10 p.m. on Fridays, perhaps.)

Even if you were not particularly tight with your money, these pieces each would cost no more than $75,000-$100,000 to produce – no more than $300,000 per network for three shows, even with original, in-depth field reporting that you typically don’t see on the cable news networks.

You’d not only save loads of money but also fulfill your public service duties and responsibility in a dramatically more meaningful way than what you’d be offering viewers during the conventions.

As a news consumer, I really would welcome in-depth coverage on a variety of issues. To name just a few:

  • Can we defeat ISIS? I keep hearing we will. I just can’t figure out how or when. What’s each party’s nominee’s plan?
  • How much trouble are Medicare and Social Security really in? We hear about it every Election Cycle, but both systems seems to be surviving. I’m sure some of the other millions of Americans between the ages of 55 and 65 might also welcome a detailed look at the various proposals to ensure our well-being in our old age.
  • What about hours on making it in America in 2016 with wages still stagnant after decades? Race relations? Education/Common Core? Healthcare? Immigration?

With all your collective experience and know-how, you could devise a list of 9 programs within a day. I have no doubt all of them would be far more original and illuminating than anything you could possibly do from the conventions, no matter how great your efforts and talent.

Everyone would be a winner. You’d save money AND distinguish yourselves. The rest of us, your viewers, would be far better informed before we go out to vote.

All it takes is for one of you to take the lead to make this happen.

Who among you will?

Respectfully,
Marc Rosenwasser

Marc Rosenwasser worked at ABC News for seven years, at NBC News for 16 years, at CBS News for one year and at PBS for seven. He was the co-creator and, for its first two seasons, the executive producer of NewsHour Weekend. He also was an Associated Press correspondent for seven years.

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