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Diplomacy in Action

How to Cover Political Conventions

David Lightman, reporter, McClatchy Washington Bureau
Washington, DC
July 13, 2012

10:30 P.M. EDT


MODERATOR: Good morning, and welcome to the Foreign Press Center. Today we have with us David Lightman, who is a reporter for McClatchy News, and he’s going to brief about how to cover political conventions. He’s an expert. He’s been doing this for over 30 years. I do have one note, that the opinions that are expressed by Mr. Lightman are not the State Department’s.

Mr. Lightman.

MR. LIGHTMAN: Thank you. Nor are they McClatchy’s. (Laughter.) Okay. Thank you for coming. Yeah, I’ve been covering these conventions since 1980, and obviously conventions have evolved and changed. They’re far more scripted now. They’re often almost news-less. However, having said that, there’s plenty there. And I think I want to talk about this in two different ways. First, we’ll talk about what to cover and then we’ll talk about how to cover.

I think you start with the idea that covering a convention is almost like covering the U.S. Congress, except everybody’s there at once. Think about when you’ve ever covered a Congressional vote, in the House for example, where all 435 people are there in front of you and their aides and their staff are out in the halls. All of the sudden, all of these people that you can never get on the phone are there in front of you. That’s the way it is at a convention. You walk into that hall at whatever, 8 o’clock at night and boom, 20,000 people – governors, senators, mayor, everybody; conservatives, liberals, you name it; movie stars. It’s a journalistic feast.

Having said that, you can lose your mind if you don’t think hard about what you want to do. And it’s a strange dichotomy. On the one hand, you want to be on top of everything, okay? You want to know what’s happening. You don’t want to miss the big story. How do you do that? There’s no magic way except be there, be literally in the arena. Be on the site. Don’t be in your hotel room watching TV. Don’t be hanging out at the bar for three hours. Be there. I know that’s the oldest axiom of journalism, but it’s true.

How do you hear about this stuff? This is a terrible un-academic way of putting it: You will. Believe me. In 1996, during Bill Clinton’s second convention, which was, we thought, a largely news-less convention – well, it turned out in the middle of that week that’s when Dick Morris, his former aide, was caught at the Jefferson Hotel with a, shall we say, woman not his wife. How did we hear about it? I can’t tell you precisely how I did, but I do remember literally walking down the street to the convention hall in Chicago, and somebody stopped me on the street and another reporter, saying, “Hey, did you hear?” Boom, you hear about it. Believe me. You won’t miss it.

So you want to stay on top of everything, but not to the point where it becomes obsessive. You don’t want to waste a lot of time, for example, waiting outside some room where top officials are meeting, hoping they’ll come out and say something to you. You don’t want to waste a lot of time in a scrum with 50 people trying to get to Mitt Romney’s campaign manager, because chances are whatever he says, a) isn’t going to make that much news, and if it does, again, you’re going to be able to get it elsewhere.

Which leads to my second point, and that is you’ve got to go into the conventions with a focus, depending on who you work for. That should be no problem for most of you, because you’re all going to have certain missions. When I first covered the convention in 1980, I was working for The Baltimore Sun. One of my missions was to cover the Maryland delegation. I had to know everything those people were doing, who was – what fundraisers they were going to, delegation meetings. We did one story, I remember, on the governor of Maryland who basically disappeared for most of the day. Turned out he was sightseeing in New York City. Wrote a story and he got mad, but got reelected.

In any event, you have to have that sharp focus. And very often – I’ve always worked with teams of people who pretty much knew their mission. Your mission is to write a story about the Palin family; your mission is to go over Palin’s record; your mission is to write an analysis of how McCain did, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera. If you go in with that focus, you’ll be much better off. So keep your ear out for the big story, but also be focused.

Having said that, you need to go in with three or four ideas every day, especially at these conventions. Now, news may be made, but chances are it won’t be. We know who the nominees are. Chances are we’re going to know the Republican vice presidential nominee long before the convention. The platform, a little bit of a fight, but not much. This thing is going to be scripted. You got to say to yourself, how can I use this convention to do good stories? Because again, you will never have sources, you’ll never have access, like you will at these conventions, okay?

Now talk briefly about how to do it, okay, the logistics of this. And the biggest thing to remember is know your limits. As a good journalist, all these people, all these sources, all this access right in front of you, I mean, you’re just ravenous. You’ve got to control yourself. You’ve got to say to yourself, I only have time to talk to X,Y,Z or whatever, or I only need – really need so and so. You’ve got to just control yourself and think, who do I need, who do I want to talk to, and most important, when do I want to talk to them?

Use the day parts. Usually in the mornings of conventions, delegations meet, state delegations. They meet at their hotels, and usually anybody can wander in. So if you see, for example, that Ann Romney is meeting with the New York delegation, go, talk to the New York delegates. If you hear that the Ron Paul forces are getting a little restless, okay, they want platform – go to the Nevada delegation at their hotel somewhere that morning. They all meet in the mornings. Use that time.

Here’s the problem at the convention itself: While it’s fun to be on the floor, the floor is just a mess. And the later it gets in the evening, the harder it is simply to physically walk around that floor. You just can’t flit from governor to governor or from Michigan to Illinois. It’s hard. It’s crowded. There’s a lot of security. It’s tough. You can do it, but it’s tough. So plot out who you want to talk to, when you want to talk to them, and how you’re going to do it.

One more thing about the floor in the evening. If form holds, what’ll happen is you’ll get maybe 20, 30 minutes on that floor. In other words, there will be a table there and people from the Senate and House press gallery staff will hand out floor passes – 20, 30 minutes. And you might think, well, heck, I’ll just keep it. No you won’t, because these are the same people who control the House and Senate press galleries. You don’t want to annoy them. Plus it’s not fair to your fellow reporters. So use the day parts.

The other thing about this – and I know it sounds corny – when I first went to a convention in 1980, it was the Republican convention in Detroit. Ronald Regan was nominated. And back then, conventions meant something and there were real battles and there were platform fights and there were liberal Republicans fighting with conservative Republicans. And in fact, we didn’t know who the vice presidential nominee was going to be. In fact, Regan walked out – I think it was on Tuesday night at 11 o’clock – spontaneously and announced to the convention it was going to be Bush. But it was mesmerizing because, again, journalistically everybody was there. And you’re going to feel the same way.

If you’ve never been, you’re just going to be in journalistic heaven. And if you have been, you might think, well, it’s heaven to a point, but my gosh, the security, the logistics, the crowds. Again, keep it focused, know what you want to do, keep your eyes and ears open.


QUESTION: Can we talk about what happens on the first day? Second?

MR. LIGHTMAN: Yeah, let’s do that. Okay. First day, second day, third day, fourth day. Actually, let’s back up a little bit and start with Sunday, the day before. It’s hard to find people just before because there’s no – it’s not as organized as it might be. Okay, so if you’re working stories before the convention, you might want to hit the phones before you go. Yes, people are around, but they’re not as easy to find. I mean, I remember times we’d go to the train station in New York or even the airport to get people coming off planes and trains. But when they do that, they’re not really eager to talk to you, okay? They want to get their luggage, they want to get to the hotel, they want to get settled. So a lot of the pre-convention stories, you really have to do in advance.

Republicans, though, help you in this sense: They will start meeting the Monday before the convention – in other words, the 20th of August, I believe. And if you call the Republican National Committee press office, they’ll give you the schedule. Monday and Tuesday, they’ll have platform committee hearings. Wednesday and Thursday, the Republican National Committee will meet. I don’t recall what Friday is, but the point is people will be there. So if you go early, you can talk to people and prepare your stories. Democrats don’t do that. Democrats’ platform hearings will be August 10th, 11th, and 12th in Detroit. But the week before, you’ll be at the Republican Convention.

All right, let’s talk about day one, two, three four. It used to be that day one was the setup, the keynote address – that is, usually and up-and-coming party star who set the tone for the convention. Barack Obama was the keynote speaker in 2004, John Glenn in 1984, et cetera – or 1980. I think it was Mario Cuomo in 1984. It’s supposed to spotlight somebody. And often the story you write is about this up-and-coming star, whether in fact they succeeded on the national stage or bombed. I mean, one can trace Obama’s rise to the speech at the ’04 convention, for example. And one can trace John Glenn’s sort of fall from grace at the national – on the national level from that keynote speech, which didn’t go over all that well.

That may not hold this year, and I’ll get to that in a minute. But usually, day one focuses on the keynote, the setup. Day one is the day you really have to use not just your imagination but your enterprise skills, because the story you’re going to do that day is about the tone of the convention. Do people walk into the Democratic Convention confident that they can win or are they worried? Same with the Republicans. I mean, look, Romney survived a bruising primary and caucus fight. Are the people there enthusiastic about Romney? Well, there’s your story.

Day two used to be – I keep saying used to be because they scramble it – used to be platform day. And actually, it used to be a very lively day, and may be again. This is the day they present the party platform, that is what the party stands for. This is very important to most delegates and to the party because this is what they run on. If people say to you in October, okay, what’s Romney stand for, what’s Obama stand for, you point to the platform. However, because Obama controls, I think, all the Democratic delegates and Romney pretty much controls the convention, I wouldn’t expect a whole lot of platform battles. And if there are, they’ll probably move them to 3 o’clock in the afternoon, when people aren’t watching. The Ron Paul forces have some very serious points they want to make. In the past, it would take something like six states to force a vote on a platform plank. I don’t think Paul or Santorum can do that. I’m not sure about that, but that’s something to watch.

I always found the platform interesting because it allows you to write substance. It allows you to talk about the party position on any range of topics, especially for foreign press. What will Romney do about Iran? What will Romney do about missile defense? Et cetera, et cetera. All that should be in the platform. If it’s not, you also have a story; why isn’t it in the platform? So I think you can get a lot out of that day.

Traditionally, Wednesday has been the day that the president and vice president are formally nominated. Now, when I was a kid this was the fun part of watching a convention because the ballots meant something. And you sit there – boy, am I going to date myself now – and you would watch John Kennedy versus Lyndon Johnson versus Hubert Humphrey as hey’d call out the names of each of the states and they’d cast their ballots, and at some point somebody would put Kennedy over the top. It was exciting. You don’t have that anymore, because we know Romney’s got it, we know Obama’s got it. They will still call the roll of the states. They will still go state by state by state. And it’s colorful. Each state will give a little sentence or two describing its wonders. They’ll say the great state of Wisconsin, America’s dairy land, casts 37 votes for President Barack Obama, et cetera, et cetera.

Santorum, Gingrich, Paul will probably all get votes. By the way, before that vote, I should have mentioned, people will formally nominate the candidate, okay? So all these people from the primary – Paul, Santorum, Gingrich, Perry, et cetera – I expect their names will be placed in nomination. Okay, they may not speak themselves. That’s a whole different matter. But they will be placed in nomination. Then will come Romney and Obama and the Democrats, and have maybe a nominator and then two or three or four seconders. This is important for these candidates, and we always watch – who are they? Who’s going to do it? What are they trying to say in their choice of people seconding those speeches? We always watch that very carefully. And then the roll call.

Thursday night is arguably the biggest, most important night of the convention. The vice presidential nominee gives his or her speech. Sometimes, they bump that to Wednesday. And then, of course, the nominee gives his or her address, usually around 10 o’clock, although in 2008, of course, it was delayed slightly because the Redskins were playing the Giants that night – (laughter) – and John McCain thoughtfully waited until the football game was over to give his speech. This year, interestingly, they have moved that Thursday night football game to Wednesday, so as not to conflict with Obama.

Anyway, chances are Romney and Obama will give their big speeches Thursday. Obama will do it from, I think, the football stadium in Charlotte. Romney, at the moment, is supposed to do his from the arena at Tampa. This is a big deal. And this usually spawns several stories because this is the real, formal introduction of the candidate to the American people. This is the first time that the American people are really seeing Mitt Romney unfiltered, hearing what he has to say, what he looks like, how he sounds, what he stands for, et cetera, et cetera. Almost always the candidate gets a bump out of this, the most famous being 1988 when Michael Dukakis, the Democratic nominee, got a huge bump and walked out of his convention 17 points ahead of George H.W. Bush. And of course, we all know how that turned out.

So you do have that bump. And the thing – the interesting part of this is that because the conventions are what we call back-to-back – right – how much of a bump is Romney going to get? In other words, he’ll give a speech Thursday night, and then boom, we’re all going to run to Charlotte to see Obama. So what will it matter?

In any event, Thursday night, you have the speech. You’re going to analyze the speech, get reaction to the speech. I mean, that’s a night you pay a lot of attention to the floor. Are people genuinely going wild over this guy, or are they sitting there on their hands? In 1980, when Jimmy Carter was nominated for a second term, he had survived this bruising primary fight with Senator Kennedy – Edward Kennedy – and it’s a now-famous scene where the room was pretty much half and half, Carter and Kennedy people. And Carter did not get a huge ovation. And then when Kennedy walked up to the stage to shake his hand, they kind of – it was awkward and they circled each other and they never quite got it. And that was our story.

So Thursday night, more than any other night, you really have to be alert to these nuances, to the body language of the people in the crowd, to the body language of the people who might walk on to the podium afterwards. Will Gingrich, Santorum, Paul walk up and be genuinely enthusiastic or stand there with their hands in their pockets? Will they go to the podium at all? What’s the body language telling you?

In any event, that takes care of the convention. Friday – got to warn you, if you’re looking for aftermath of the convention, very often it’s tough. Sometimes the party committees will meet Friday morning, but by noon those cities are cleared out. Any quotes you need, any reaction, stay up late Thursday night and get it then because Friday, I’m telling you, Charlotte, Tampa will go back to being their normal selves.

And questions? (Laughter.)

MODERATOR: Please raise your hand, wait for the microphone and state your name and organization.

QUESTION: Hi. My name is Sabine Mueller-Thum, with German radio. Can you talk a bit more about how you get information on these day events that you talked about, that you said we should really go to? What’s the best place to get that information?

MR. LIGHTMAN: Usually – excuse me – the convention will have an email list, a list – which will send you all these schedules. Now, there are several ways to get it and it’s different from every convention, so it’s hard for me to stand here and say. But for example, National Journal, Congressional Quarterly, I assume Politico, publications like that will have lists of schedules. And you’ll be with the rest of the press corps so you just pick them up and just look.

And part of the problem, I should warn you, particularly during the day, is because of security. It’s not like running around Washington, where you can jump in a cab and go from place to place. Security is very, very tight. Very often they bring in a lot of policemen from out of state, okay, and they don’t know the city. You’ve got to give yourself lots of extra time and understand you can’t be quite as nimble as you are here in Washington. It’s – it can be difficult. And when you actually want to get into the hall, give yourself loads of time. You will wait and wait and wait.


QUESTION: Similar question, but someone told me there’s, like, a phone --

PARTICIPANT: What’s your affiliation?

QUESTION: Oh, sorry. I’m Sylvia Thomson with CBC, Canadian broadcasting. I also heard that you can phone in or every morning there would be a phone-in conference call, So you just call in and that could – DNC people will tell you all these things are happening and the RNC people will tell you this is the schedule for the day. Does that – is that true?

Mr. LIGHTMAN: There has been a call, an RNC/DNC call, though I don’t remember it giving out schedules. I remember it giving you sort of the message of the day. But I – it seems to me rather cumbersome, because these schedules take up, like, three pages, taking up a National Journal Hotline. That could be tough. No, you just have to keep an eye on it.

A lot of times – it doesn’t apply to you, but we used to tell – still do – tell regional reporters: Stay with your state delegations. That’s where you hear things; that’s your best source. If you’re staying at a hotel that’s – and the New York, Nevada, Colorado delegations are staying there, people will come to you. I mean, just go in the lobby and people are there with delegation meetings, fundraisers, all kinds of things. But yeah, I – the call I can think of was not that.

Again, part of the problem you always have is every convention is different, okay? Especially with technology exploding the way it did. I mean, four years ago was a very different technical world. I mean, just think of all the people today who have iPhones, right? And in ’08, the iPhone was really new. People didn’t have them. So it just keeps developing.


QUESTION: I’m Stefan Niemann with ARD, German TV. It will be the first conventions I cover. And I wonder, since it’s about action and reaction, whether there will be officially registered Republicans following the Democratic convention and vice versa so that we would have people to turn to for reactions of the competing parties?

MR. LIGHTMAN: Yes. I mean, I can’t say that with certainty, but for the last, oh, 12, 16 years, yes, the opposite party has always set up an operation nearby, in a nearby townhouse or a hotel lobby. But yes, the other party makes itself available. And believe me, they will let you know.

QUESTION: High-ranking?

MR. LIGHTMAN: Usually governors – yeah, people of authority. Yes, yes. Yeah. People you want, put it that way. Especially – I’ll tell you one of the good things about having these conventions in two swing states is that Florida, you have the Democratic Party chairman living on the other side of the state. You’ve got a lot of prominent Democrats who can just jump in their cars and be there; and North Carolina, same thing. Good swing state; you’re close to Virginia, South Carolina. But yeah, they always bring in high-level people. They know what we want.

QUESTION: Thank you. Min Xiong with China’s 21st Century Business Herald. My question not really into the convention itself, but rather, how should foreign reporters observe and explain the U.S. election? I mean, every day we hear on the news what Obama made comments today, I guess, about something, whereas yesterday’s about this NAACP comments and he hasn’t changes. So we could see these are on the surface level, they are, like, comments made by two candidates on daily basis. And then we see people who track their movement that go to different states fundraising. So there’s fundraising. But could you sort of go over the list of components during the election year, of things that people should watch over and sort of be more clearly about the roadmap sort of thing?

MR. LIGHTMAN: Depends on the needs of your organization, obviously. For example, what we try to do in addition to covering this daily news is give it perspective and context. Take the – well, the NAACP, or two weeks ago the National Association of Latino Elected Officials. Now, both Romney and Obama spoke to that group. NAACP, you had Romney and then Vice President Biden. And yeah, you have to report the daily news, but the story today is, okay, so what? Did that move anybody?

In the 2008 election, African Americans voted 95 to 5 for President Obama. Will that happen again? That’s the story we wrote. Did Romney change any minds? Did he move anybody? And most important to Obama, are African Americans going to turn out in the numbers they did in 2008? There’s no question, according to the polls right now, that Obama will probably get close to the 95-5 again. Okay, it might sink a little bit, but the question is: Can there be enough turnout to put him over the top in states like North Carolina, Virginia, Florida, where there are sizeable black populations?

My point is think beyond the daily. Think context, think analysis, think: what does this mean to the election? I think if you always think that, you’ll do better stories. Yes, you should go to the events and follow the charges and counter-charges. But you haven’t been in the business for years just to do that. You need to take it to a higher plane.

QUESTION: Tsukasa Arita with Japanese Kyoto News. Just I’m wondering who will be your keynote speaker on both parties this time around.

MR. LIGHTMAN: If you know, call me, yeah. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: But do you have any idea on who might be candidates?

MR. LIGHTMAN: No. I could stand here and guess, but it would just be a guess. I just --

QUESTION: (Inaudible.)



MR. LIGHTMAN: Yeah, I – I just don’t know. In fact, it’s funny. We think this is all so imminent, which it is, but the Democrats just announced the platform committee yesterday. So – and we still don’t know, obviously, who Romney’s vice presidential pick’s going to be. And in fact, the Republicans just announced that platform schedule maybe a few days ago. So all that – remember too they want to roll it out for maximum media exposure. So in a week where there’s not much happening or they need a boost, then all of the sudden they’ll announce the keynote speaker.

QUESTION: Daniel Pacheco with Caracol from Colombia. You mentioned day two, the party platform day as, like, the best day to talk about foreign policy issues. But that’s obviously our main interest. What other day or opportunity do you think throughout the convention might arise, like, for these type of issues?

MR. LIGHTMAN: Well, let me backtrack a minute, and forgive me for repeating myself. As far as foreign policy goes, I think you should take a look at the Democratic platform meeting August 10th to 12th in Detroit. And I believe before that – I don’t remember the exact date – they’re going to do a hearing in Minneapolis on platform issues. Democrats always do it this way. I don’t know how much foreign policy stuff’s going to come up. Call the Democratic Party on that one. But the August 10th to 12th platform meeting will be very helpful.

And then I think the August 20-21 platform meeting the Republicans are holding would be very helpful to you because – for a number of reasons. First of all, you may have a substantive discussion of foreign policy. But more important, you’re not going to have the press mob at those things that you will once the convention starts. Not a lot of reporters cover the platform. So I suspect you’d be able to engage members of the committee, people in the audience, that sort of thing, a lot more.

At the convention itself, I’m sorry to say there probably aren’t a whole – how can I put this – most reporters are not interested in foreign policy. And I think you’ll be able to find meetings, events, and so forth where you’ll be able to go and ask the kinds of questions nobody else is.

MODERATOR: Foreign Press Center plans to have briefings at our spaces at the conventions, and we plan to recruit briefers who are going to address foreign policy.

MR. LIGHTMAN: But start with those platform committee meetings. But call the parties first and ask because, see, part of the problem in recent years with the platform, journalistically, is that very often these parties will scrunch it into seven pages, okay? I mean, they don’t want controversy. Sometimes they won’t. So you never know. If these platforms meetings are just going to be scripted, nah – of course, that’s a story, too, right? I mean, you have a world potentially exploding and they’re going to brush it off in three paragraphs. That’s a story in itself. I would check with the parties.

QUESTION: Thank you. Ching-Yi-Chang with Phoenix TV. I have two questions, actually. The first is: I would like to know, what did you usually do before the convention? What’s the preparation?

The second one is: I observed that, interestingly, whether Obama or Romney, they are taking China bashing as their strategy. We see that during the past two Obama bring a case against China, and recently Romney just called China as a cheater. And so has there been such a fierce China bashing phenomenon in the past?

MR. LIGHTMAN: Okay, we start – let me start with that and then I’ll backtrack to the other. I’m not the best person to – I’m no expert on that, but yeah, bashing of certain foreign countries is hardly new. (Laughter.) In fact, gosh, I might be wrong about this; maybe you might remember – the Japanese reporter – it seems to me in the mid-’80s a bunch of members of Congress went on the steps of the Capitol and took a Toshiba boom box or something and smashed it to protest the trade deficit with Japan. So yeah, that’s not unusual. Actually, yesterday at Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s press conference, when the subject of the Chinese-made uniforms was brought up and – put them all on a pile and burn them.

Now, back to the first question. How do – I think, how do you prepare for the conventions? There’s really two ways to do it. One we’re almost done with, and that is if you’ve covered the stuff from the beginning – that is covered the primaries, the caucuses, got to know the people – that’s your preparation. I mean, this is something you build up to, okay? Absent that, I think, again, what you need to do is think about what you want to do there. Think about what you’re mission is. As I said at the outset, your mission’s not – well, depending on your publication or your TV station, whatever – are you there to do everything, because you can be tweeting 24 hours a day. Think about the stories you want to do.

The China story, for example. You could – you can follow that right on through. I mean, are people going to get up on the podium and bang their fists and say China’s a terrible place? Or – and if so, who are these people? Why? And are they wearing clothes made in China as they do it? (Laughter.)

So there’s all kinds of – know what you want to do.

QUESTION: Hello. I am Akio Fujii from Nikkei Newspaper. From your long experience of covering president elections, what is the most impressive or effective announcement of running mate? Or how does he – just on the timing of the running mate announcement by Mr. Romney?

MR. LIGHTMAN: That’s not for me to say. It’s always different. It just depends what’s effective, what’s not. As I said, Reagan came to the hall, I think it was Tuesday night – maybe Monday night of the convention at 11 o’clock at night, announces Bush. Was that effective? They won. People criticized Bush in 1988 for the way he handled the Dan Quayle announcement. It was in New Orleans, at the convention – again, I believe, Tuesday afternoon on that dock. And Quayle was all excited, and immediately the subject of criticism for appearing not to have gravitas. Well, well and good. But again, they won. Right?

So – and the Sarah Palin rollout, which happened on Friday. Basically – we forget now, but that was seen at the time as a big success. If you recall, conservatives loved it. She was fresh, she was different, down to earth. Remember, she roared into that convention? People loved it.

So there’s no easy way to know. But this was sort of my point in the beginning. You’ll know. Your ear, your instincts, will tell you. People will comment. People will say things. You’ll know.

QUESTION: Narayan Lakshman, The Hindu in India. As foreign reporters, do we stand in a different position vis-à-vis domestic news outlets in the sense of are the campaign team and the leaders going to be as willing to speak to us? And should we position ourselves – is there any way to position ourselves to get that to happen?

MR. LIGHTMAN: That’s a good question. Ninety percent of the reporters at a convention – or for that matter, in this town – foreign, domestic, you name it – think that the powers that be are shunning them. Right? Go to the White House and talk to the people who cover the White – or cover Congress. I’ll tell you, gosh, I don’t get enough access to this person, that person. So I think it has nothing to do with foreign/domestic. We all want more access. We all want to be there.

I just – again, I’ve obviously never been a foreign-based reporter, but I just don’t see that as a problem. I mean, I think what you’ll find is most candidates and staff enjoy talking substance. They really do. They’re tired of process questions. They’re tired of reporters looking for quick hits so they can put into – that they can tweet. When somebody asks them a substantive question about missile defense, for example, I think they enjoy that. At least I like to think they do. But I’ve had very conversations with people about particularly budget, taxes, things I know. And I find they like that.

MODERATOR: Any other questions? Okay.

QUESTION: This is Thomas Gorguissian from Al Tahrir, Egyptian newspaper. The question is related to two issues that you raised, which is first of one is look beyond it, beyond that story which is I want to elaborate little bit because this is what we are trying to do all over the world, but it’s hard to do it.

The second thing, which is, like, you said – the last answer to your – to his – to fellow question, that people want to talk substance. I may disagree with you; people prefer now to give sound bites.

MR. LIGHTMAN: Some, yeah. But I find when you get to the principal – in other words, you can get to the senator or the congressman, and you know what you’re talking about, they will talk to you. I really do. Yes, of course they want to give sound bites. And of course there are plenty of people out there who just don’t even seem human, I know. But you know, as a reporter, you find the people you need, and there are plenty of them out there.


QUESTION: Christian Wernicke from the German daily Sueddeutsche Zeitung. How important is it to attend some of these evening receptions that are going on at the sidelines of the convention? And how much effort should I, as a foreign correspondent who indeed has a little bit more problems to access this kind of thing – how much effort should I put into it to obtain some of these tickets?

MR. LIGHTMAN: Again, it depends on your needs and your mission, and your style, frankly. I know good reporters who go to these receptions, will stay until 3 in the morning, and walk out with the best story you ever saw. Okay? And others just recoil at the idea of doing that. They would much rather grab a U.S. senator in the hall and talk nuclear disarmament for 20 minutes.

It’s – it just depends on you. I can’t – boy, I can give you examples of going to these things and doing very well, and not.

One thing I would say about the receptions and the social events is when you go in, make sure everybody understands the rules, okay? In other words, our feeling is if we go to a publicized, open event – right – everybody’s on the record unless you say otherwise. Well, sometimes they don’t always understand that. You have to be careful with that. But again, it depends on your style, your mission.

MODERATOR: Any other questions? We have one more?

QUESTION: Sorry, one other question. I am Sylvia Thomson from CBC. You mentioned the iPhone being more prevalent this time around. What else are you – what else do you think is going to be very different? I’m sure Twitter is new this time around. What are you expecting? How are you expecting those kinds of things like technology to make any difference at all?

MR. LIGHTMAN: Yeah. Again, people are tweeting like mad. I mean, even people my age are tweeting like mad now. So – (laughter) – we can’t resist anymore. We’re in a digital world and – which makes for a couple challenges. On he one hand, you have media organizations trying to beat each other by a matter of seconds and, again, organizations like ours blogging, tweeting instant news. On the other hand – and this is the irony of it all – people who care about this stuff can put on their TV and watch it all. They don’t need us to tell them what Romney said, okay?

So it goes back to what I was saying before about context and altitude and so on and so forth. Our job as broadcasters, writers, and so forth is to provide that something they’re not going to get sitting in their dens watching it on C-SPAN. Our job is, again, what’s the real reaction to Romney?

The Sarah Palin stuff in ’08 was great because we uniquely could write about the enthusiasm people had. And when the Bristol Palin matter erupted, remember that happened during the convention, too. And we could talk to people, we could listen to people, we could have a feel for what that meant that you’re not going to get with tweets, with quickie blogs, and with watching it on C-SPAN. So you have to think of your mission as both very intimate, with the blogs and the tweets, but also big picture.

MODERATOR: Okay, thank you very much for attending.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR. LIGHTMAN: Thank you.

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