Commentary: An off the record meeting for 500 journalists?

The Charlotte ObserverJanuary 20, 2012 

A day after the Democratic National Convention Committee reiterated that Charlotte's gathering would be "the most open and accessible in history," 500 media representatives were given a tour Wednesday of their September digs.

One of the first orders of business: cone of silence.

Karen Burchard, director of media logistics, told the media - some from as far away as Asia and England - that the discussions of the day would be "off the record." That means the details of the day, everything from the location of the 36 media suites to where the bathrooms could be found, would be hush-hush.

I rose and squawked. I don't like off-the-record. I prefer in-the-newspaper.

Silly me thinks that if you gather hundreds of media people in a city-owned building to discuss how much their suites are going to cost, it's unseemly to order them to keep it on the down-low.

Silly me thinks if you're spinning "the most open and accessible in history," then you should skip the stealth stuff.

Theodore LeCompte, chief operating officer for the convention committee, stood up and set me straight.

"If there are issues with the ground rules, you are perfectly welcome not to attend this session," he said.

Silly me stuck around.

By lunchtime, Chris Miller, morning news reporter on WBT-AM (1110) and one of the journalists in town you probably don't want to push around, had been pulled aside by a convention press aide. She was concerned about a tweet he had sent that began, "DNC official just announced everything is now off-the-record." He says she reminded him everything was off the record.

Even going off the record, I guess.

I asked Kristie Greco, director of communications and public affairs for "the most open and accessible in history" convention, if it were true that Miller and at least one other reporter had been approached by convention communications staff and reminded to shush.

"Those are off-the-record conversations," she said. "We will not confirm these conversations."

Greco said the media walk-through is always a confidential gathering - information is shared that could have competitive implications. It's the way the media likes it, she said.

"Media representatives here are trying to do the planning necessary for the convention," she said. "We want to talk about logistics and provide information off the record. A lot of these things are still in the planning stages."

Republicans do it that way, too, she said.

"We've never, ever done a media walk-through off the record," James Davis, spokesman for the Republican Committee on Arrangements in Tampa, said Wednesday. During the Dec. 6 media gathering in Tampa, he says, people tweeted (even he did), there was a Q-and-A with reporters and booklets available with the price lists for convention space.

"I don't know how you have a media walk-through where you invite several hundred members of the media off the record," he said.

For most gathered Wednesday in Charlotte, the silent treatment was no big deal.

"A total non-issue," said Greg Kohler of Charlotte-based NBC News Channel, who has been managing convention setups since 2000. Kohler was more interested in the good news of the day - spots in the arena for his reporters to do stand-ups were going for $1,200 to $1,800, rather than the $10,000 they cost in Denver and at other conventions.

Larry Rubenstein, who runs the logistics for Reuters news service, was focusing on the money, too. In Charlotte, the media can rent chairs at the arena for only $49, a third less than what they were paying in Denver four years ago.

He said off-the-record conversations are common during media orientation, and he thought even the Republicans had some such moments in December. "Accepted practice," he said. Competitive reasons.

Despite the bubble of confidentiality, those attending the walk-through were chatty about the details. Media suites were going for about $18,600 to $19,100, depending on size. After customization, the cost would come to around $25,000. They went for about $30,000 at past conventions.

Not everything is a bargain. Thirsty media people will have to order through the arena's vendor. Budweiser, the King of Beers, will be offered for $31.50 per six-pack.

Such are the details "the most open and accessible convention in history" would apparently prefer to keep to itself.

Pretty mundane stuff, overall, not much public interest here. So why does the committee care?

"Why do they have to make a meeting about cable lengths off the record?" said Miller, the WBT reporter. "These are not the nuclear secrets."

Silly me agrees. But only clandestinely.

To read more, visit www.charlotteobserver.com.

McClatchy Washington Bureau is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere in the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

Commenting FAQs | Terms of Service