The mood at our daily news meeting was a little tense Thursday afternoon as rumors abounded about Republican John McCain’s pick for a running mate — just days before the Republican National Convention was to begin in St. Paul.
We had three versions of the front page prepared, convinced we’d get a leak before midnight; editors were lobbying hard for their points of view. Our dilemma was how to give proper play to McCain’s pick and still do justice to Democratic nominee Barack Obama’s historic night. Version 1: An "It’s Pawlenty" headline and story, splashed across the very top of the front page. Version 2: A front dominated by Obama, with a smaller story on the veep choice if it wasn’t Pawlenty. Version 3: No GOP news in time for Friday’s paper. (This, of course, was the version we printed).
It was just one of many scenarios we have tried to map out over the last several days, weeks and months so we could be prepared to instantly respond to news from the conventions, the candidates and the upcoming campaign. In the midst of this particular debate, our wire editor rushed into the circle with a little slip of paper that instantly sent a wave of horror through the group: "McCain says he might delay the Republican convention if a major hurricane hits the Gulf Coast."
Suffice it to say, this was one scenario we had not considered. The special section in today’s paper, a viewer’s guide to the convention, was already scheduled on the press. We’d spent many hours, and dollars, setting up a newsroom inside the Xcel Energy Center so that we could update our readers minute to minute as the convention unfolded. Nearly a year ago, we had created a political website for this convention and for the general election. Surely, they wouldn’t really postpone it?
Our hearts go out to the people in the storm’s path. But we, and most of the rest of the political world, are anticipating that the show will go on.
It is, of course, just that. A show orchestrated to the most minute detail, to allow the Republican party to tell its story to the country and the world, just as the Democratic National Convention was last week. Some might call it an infomercial.
One could argue, and journalists do, that given how little real news is created at these conventions, journalists should spend less time and energy covering them and put more effort into ferreting out information the public does not already know. An estimated 15,000 journalists have already started descending on the Twin Cities. Perhaps just 3,000 could do the job?
At the same time, these conventions are a great American political tradition. They present an opportunity for our potential leaders to tell their own stories to the public, and for us to get to know this generation of leaders a little better before the mud really starts flying. Political careers have been launched, and lost, on the basis of a convention speech.
For the state of Minnesota, it’s also a moment to show off. Minnesota hasn’t had a national convention in one of its cities since 1892. Minneapolis and St. Paul leaders, working with the Republican Party and community leaders, have been planning for this for more than a year, and no detail, from the security of the manhole covers in St. Paul to the quality of the balloon drop, has been left unexamined.
The Star Tribune has planned special coverage every day, starting with today’s viewer’s guide inside the paper, and a special convention section starting Monday. We’ll have about 50 journalists — including reporters, editors, photographers, videographers, columnists and editorial writers — covering every aspect of this convention for you. We’re here to tell the political and human stories, but we’re also here to capture the show. We’ll cover the speeches, the parties, the delegates and the celebrities, so that you can enjoy the entire week for what it is: great political theater. Please join us 24 hours a day at StarTribune.com, or in print daily.