News-producing stations in the country’s 18th largest TV market have been hard at work preparing to offer comprehensive coverage of next week's Republican National Convention that’s relevant to area viewers, while also ensuring staff have flexibility to cover unexpected activity and stay safe.
Cleveland Stations Count Down To The RNC
Ready or not Cleveland, here comes the Republican National Convention, and local TV broadcasters are prepared to handle whatever is thrown at them to keep the community informed.
The convention, which opens Monday, July 18, at the Quicken Loans Arena, known locally as “The Q,” promises not only to be the culmination of an unorthodox primary season, but also a possible lightning rod for various demonstrators, disaffected party members, supporters of presumptive presidential nominee Donald Trump and many others.
Whatever unfolds — inside The Q, on the streets surrounding the venue or in various local neighborhoods — Cleveland-area TV stations have made preparations to cover the national event from a local perspective, offering insight into how the political drama happening downtown affects residents of the city and surrounding area.
WKYC — Early Planning
Planning WKYC coverage of the Republican National Convention started two years ago when the party announced Cleveland as the host city, says station news director, Brennan Donnellan.
While those efforts have “scaled up as the event gets closer,” getting a jump on the logistics of coverage has helped the Tegna-owned NBC affiliate identify several desirable neighborhood locations outside the Quicken Loans Arena, from which to originate coverage.
“You know [with] TVU [IP newsgathering gear] specifically, the fact that you can use hard-line Ethernet connections for more reliable signals has enabled us to identify locations that are safe but also good vantage points for coverage,” Donnellan says.
While the station plans a “multi-tiered” approach to field newsgathering, including “some [ENG} trucks that might be deployed in the event of protests” and bonded wireless TVU Packs, having wired Ethernet connections at pre-determined locations around Cleveland will help WKYC “bring the convention home to local viewers who live here and will be here long after the convention is gone,” he says.
One such neighborhood is a one-time party district known as “the Flats,” which over the years fell into steep decline, but for the past five has witnessed a dramatic rebound.
“I think it is a symbol of the rebirth of Cleveland,” Donnellan says. “From a practical perspective, it has a great rooftop location that gives you beautiful views of Quicken Loans Arena.”
As for the safety of its reporters and crew outside The Q, given the possibility of protests and demonstrations, Donnellan says his staff has been directed “to stay safe and pull back when situations become dangerous.”
Similarly, producers and managers in the newsroom have been instructed not to send crews “recklessly into dangerous situations” and to “monitor what is going on and assure safety before we respond,” he says.
Inside The Q, the station has converted a skybox suite into a mini studio from which it will be anchoring all of its newscasts during the convention.
For those who can’t tune in or simply can’t get enough convention coverage, WKYC will be live streaming 24/7 from its WKYC.com website. Coverage will include multiple streams, special hosted shows and interviews. Separately, the station will also stream its newscasts from the site, Donnellan says.
WKYC also will receive assistance from both Tegna and NBC to bolster its coverage, he says. The station group has already sent in a dozen journalists divided into two teams of six. One, called the “Verify Team,” will focus on confirming what politicians, protesters and others are saying inside The Q and in the streets, he says.
The other, the “Explain Team,” will lay out the political intricacies of the convention in a way that’s easy for viewers to understand.
NBC, too, will provide assistance with daily reports from its stable of reporters and anchors, including Chuck Todd, Lester Holt, Matt Lauer, Savannah Guthrie and Andrea Mitchell, says Donnellan.
WEWS — Investigative Thrust
The thing Jeff Harris, news director of WEWS, is most proud of when it comes to the station’s coverage of the Republican National Convention is the reporting it has done in the months leading up to the event to examine how tax dollars are being spent and whether the city is actually prepared to host the political gathering, he says.
“Our culture here at the station is about investigation, and we want to make sure our city is prepared,” he says.
For months, WEWS, the Scripps TV Station Group-owned ABC affiliate, has reported “in almost every single newscast” stories targeting the impact of the convention on the local community. It’s broken several important stories as well, including an investigation that revealed potential problems that could affect first responders during the event, he says.
With next week’s arrival of the long-anticipated event, WEWS will maintain its focus on the impact of the event on the community. “Again, the thrust of our reporting and coverage is going to be outside of The Q and beyond,” Harris says.
That emphasis on reporting from outside the venue has made the safety of its reporters and other crew a major focus for WEWS, he says.
“There is no doubt that because we are reporting there are times when we will be in the midst of some serious activity, and the guidelines for us are ‘stay safe’. The story is not worth being injured for,” says Harris.
Preparations have included training courses and coaching station personnel who will be in the field “on how to maintain safety in reporting,” he says.
Harris notes the station has several experienced employees “who have been through these kinds of things before” and will help the station “with the decision making” on the “front lines of coverage.”
WEWS live newsgathering tech, running the gamut from smartphone cameras to bonded cellular IP newsgathering uplinks, also will help to minimize risk. “We have all kinds of technology that allows us to get live video without all of the technology that can get in the way and be an encumbrance,” Harris says.
The station will cover all of the “pomp and circumstance” unfolding inside the arena as well, he says. “Our anchors will be anchoring from a suite high above where we’ll get a good shot of the balloons for sure.” On the convention floor WEWS political reporter John Kosich will be filing reports.
Scripps will assist the station with coverage, using “all of its tentacles” to gather news “putting a different voice on the convention based on the community,” and the station will help the group by providing a workspace and content as needed to its Newsy and Cracked.com digital platforms, he says.
As for ABC’s role in helping the station with convention coverage, WEWS has “a strong partnership plan in place,” which Harris describes as “hand-in-glove.”
WJW — Prepare But Be Flexible
Andy Fishman, news director at WJW, gives a tip of the hat to owner Tribune Broadcasting, network partner Fox, the Cleveland government and even the Republican National Committee for the cooperation the station has received as it’s walked step-by-step through the process of figuring out how to cover the convention.
But he fully recognizes all that planning may go right out the window given the unpredictability surrounding this year’s campaign.
“Our motto is: ‘We’re preparing the best we can, but we know the key to our coverage is flexibility,’” Fishman says.
“We have to be able to react to things we can’t foresee coming, and we’ve tried to build a model that will allow us to be as flexible as we can.”
A lot of that flexibility comes in the form of small, lightweight bonded cellular alternatives to more traditional ENG links that will make it easier for WJW to report live from a variety of locations around The Q.
“Although we do have many live locations in the arena, at the convention center and a few other locations around town, we have still maintained that flexibility to go where the story is,” says Fishman, adding that’s exactly what IP-based field contribution enables.
“We have 13 to 15 different places we could live from throughout the city — more than on a normal day,” he says. “That’s a combination of bonded, microwave, satellite and fiber, and we’ll be deciding what technology to use where based on safety considerations.”
When it comes to safety, it’s never a good idea to discuss specifics of security planning, says Fishman. However, he confirms the station is taking precautions, has trained staff “on equipment to be safe” and discussed with those going into the field how to make smart decisions to maintain their safety.
Back at The Q, the station will anchor all of its newscasts from an arena suite transformed into a studio for the convention. It also will have several positions around town.
WJW, which is adding an hour next week to the 11.5 hours of daily news it normally produces, will also expand its digital coverage. The station has already added additional personnel to meet its expanded digital coverage commitment, which includes live streaming from the venue.
Additionally, through a corporate relationship with Facebook, the station has secured what Fishman describes as “a market exclusive” to go live from the Facebook set at The Q a couple of times next week.
WOIO/WUAB — Embedded In Ohio
A major goal of WOIO’s convention coverage next week is to give Clevelanders a local perspective of not only what’s happening around The Q as conventioneers, demonstrators, law enforcement and the general public interact, but also of what’s going on inside the Ohio delegation as the party selects its presidential nominee, says station news director Fred D’Ambrosi.
Helping to find out what’s happening among Ohio delegates, the Raycom Media-owned CBS affiliate is embedding its senior investigative reporter Carl Monday in the state delegation. It’s also made arrangements with a couple of delegates to blog and post to social media to relate their experience about what’s happening inside the delegation.
“For us, it’s all about Ohio and Cleveland,” says D’Ambrosi. “That’s what the people of Cleveland care about.”
To report from the floor of the convention, it will rely on its LiveU bonded cellular uplinks as well as extra bandwidth provisioned for the live shots, says D’Ambrosi.
WOIO, which also produces news for sister station WUAB (MNT), will broadcast from an anchor positon in a suite at The Q that was secured in conjunction with CBS Newspath, as well as conduct interviews with Republican politicians and political experts from Media Row, a space immediately adjacent to the arena normally reserved for parking.
Further from The Q, the station will have other positions, including one at a parking garage looking back at the arena for beauty shots and another looking down on a bridge where “protest parades” are supposed to be held, D’Ambrosi says.
“We have crews assigned to cover protests with security and those people have gear that we hope we aren’t going to have to use. So we are prepared,” he says.
To enhance its digital coverage of the convention, Raycom has sent additional personnel to help. Some will be assigned to Media Row, others to live streaming protests and still others to handle the logistics of managing contributions from those embedded in the Ohio delegation.
The station also will offer two different live streams on its website. “We can carry the newscast and live stream an event,” says D’Ambrosi, “and then we will have special convention sections on the website and special sections on our app.”
Contributing to WOIO’s convention coverage will be reporting from CBS and CNN. For example, CBS’s Political Director John Dickerson as well as other experts and anchors will be available to the station throughout the week.
The station, which also has an affiliation with CNN, will turn to the CNN Newsource national correspondent Ryan Nobles for exclusive reports as well.
Still, D’Ambrosi says the goal of his coverage is to serve the needs of his local audience. “We really want to dedicate our resources to that, and how the convention is affecting real Clevelanders. That’s where our focus should be. We are a local television station. CBS can do a much better job than we can do about covering Donald Trump and the political aspects of it.
“We are going to have some of that, but that’s not our area of expertise. Our area of expertise is Cleveland.”
WVIZ — Ideastream
At Cleveland public broadcaster WVIZ, it’s “all hands on deck” for the Republican National Convention. The station, branded Ideastream, is providing workspaces and studios for both PBS and NPR coverage of the event, as well as contributing personnel to serve in roles like production manager, technical producers, engineering, IT, TV director and camera operators.
“The staff is supporting both national and local productions,” says Kit Jenson, WVIZ COO. “It’s an extraordinary opportunity to participate in important national news and convention coverage and yet tell the stories of the community.”
In addition to its own coverage and the assistance it is providing NPR and PBS, ideastream will also help other public broadcasters from around the country traveling to Cleveland for convention coverage, as well as the BBC, he says.