Getting local to lure attention of the Cynical 75
In a recent Reader Poll at our website, www.dailyherald.com, we asked readers to identify their favorite thing about political conventions. Nearly three-fourths of those responding said they hate political conventions.
This Web poll, of course, is highly unscientific, but -- when considered in light of our dominant front-page coverage of the Republican National Convention this week (and the Democratic convention next week), our series of editorials and the considerable resources we've allotted toward following the local connections to the quadrennial gatherings of Republicans and Democrats -- it still has to stand in contradiction to those who say the primary intent of our news coverage is to make money. Clearly, dedicating significant portions of our space and of our reporters' and editors' time to something that 75 percent of our readers say they not only don't care about but dislike does not carry the audience-grabbing allure of, oh, say, an account of a heroic black lab rushing into a burning building to save the life of a swimsuit model.
In fact, if audience allure were the prime consideration, coverage of the political conventions might struggle even to make the agenda at a routine news meeting. But there is more to our mission than money making, and so we gladly take on the challenge of providing coverage that will attract at least grudging attention, if not outright enthusiasm, from the Cynical 75.
That of course entails delivering reports on each day's events, the significant speeches and the reactions to them. But for the Daily Herald, it also means examining the conventions from a vantage point that is uniquely our own and predominantly suburban. Deputy Managing Editor Diane Dungey is in charge of plotting the course of that coverage, and for weeks she, Politics and Projects Writer Kerry Lester and State Government Writer Mike Riopell have been chatting up and surveying local delegates, reflecting on local concerns about national topics and generally working to tempt even readers inclined to turn up their noses at convention coverage with some suburban flavors that are hard to resist.
Lester, for example, who battened down the hatches against Hurricane Isaac along with conventioneers in Tampa this week, launched our coverage Sunday with a review of how local Republican and Democrat delegates would address the nation's troubled economy, then followed on Monday with an intriguing analysis showing how the tone of the GOP national convention will likely spill over into the 2014 race for Illinois governor. Her coverage has included the insights of prominent suburban Republicans like state party Chair Pat Brady of St. Charles, but also introduced you to delegates whom you likely don't know, like Gabriela Wyatt of Aurora and Michael Menis of Inverness.
Next week, Riopell will continue in that vein with reports on local and state Democrats at that party's convention in Charlotte, N.C. And in addition to their regular news reports, both Riopell and Lester are contributing tasty electronic nuggets of trivia, insight and humor in their joint Suburban Political Recount column.
No, government reporting does not by nature produce the kind of audience that pets and good-looking celebrities attract. But making money is just one component of the Daily Herald's mission. Equally important to us is the need to give readers information that helps them appreciate and understand their government -- in a way that brings broad national discussions down to the level of their home neighborhood. We know that's important for the readers who follow the conventions, and we believe it may also counteract the natural aversion to politics of that 75 percent.
• Jim Slusher, firstname.lastname@example.org, is an assistant managing editor at the Daily Herald. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook.