The Wired Democratic National Convention


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Setting up the technology for major events means creating the infrastructure equivalent of a temporary city. At the Democratic National Convention held in Boston's Fleet Center July 26-29, more than a year of planning culminated with Verizon, the main contractor, employing 200 people for several months to install 4,000 miles of cabling to support convention organizers, the real-time econtent requirements of the media, and the massive security operations. According to John Vincenzo, a spokesperson for Verizon, the network connections at the DNC were "capable of carrying 4.5 gigabits of information per second, the equivalent of 3,000 T-1 lines."

For the 15,000 members of the media covering the convention (who outnumbered delegates 6 to 1), the level of access to the network basically came down to dollars spent with Verizon. At the high end, outlets such as Reuters, AP, and The New York Times, erected full-blown convention bureaus staffed with dozens of people in the Media Pavilion next door to the venue. Reporters would work the floor and then return to the Media Pavilion, plug into the LAN, and file stories. Hundreds of A-list newspaper and magazine reporters also enjoyed their own reserved desks next to the stage inside of the main hall. With Internet and telephone connections, they could soak up the action, write, and then file all from the comforts of their private spot.

Beyond technology requirements, reporters and editors also need to fact check. LexisNexis was visible in the Media Pavilion, providing free online service throughout convention week. "We've been doing both major party conventions since 1992," said Amy LeBoeuf, strategic alliance manager for LexisNexis. "At that time very few people had PCs, so we helped them do their research. But now we give them their own ID and password."

While the hard-wired data infrastructure was robust, Wi-Fi coverage was spotty at best and a main subject of much frustration and discussion among journalists. Writers from smaller organizations who didn't rate a bureau or private space had to make do at the free first-come-first-served filing centers in the bowels of the Fleet Center, which lacked Wi-Fi. Sitting on the floor of the filing center at 4:00 p.m. on the second day, Roy Freddy Andersen, who was covering the convention for Verdens Gang, Norway's largest newspaper, said, "I came here two hours ago and all the workspaces were already taken. I've been to two Olympic Games and other sporting events where Wi-Fi is always available. I don't understand why this is so difficult." Andersen had a back-up plan though, filing stories directly to his newspaper through a cell phone. But his photographer, with much bigger file sizes, was out of luck.

Pete McAleer, state house reporter with The Press of Atlantic City, who was covering the New Jersey delegation, had other technology issues with the filing center. "On the first day there were no power strips," he said. "So I had to write my story under battery power. By the time I filed, I had two minutes of power left."

For the first time, blogs were being written directly from the convention, many with RSS feeds available. In addition to the official DNC blog and some big media blogging forays from the likes of CNN and MSNBC, the Colorado, Nebraska, Oregon, and Texas delegations were all blogging their experiences directly from the convention floor. Most interestingly, 30 independent bloggers scored coveted press credentials and reported from "Bloggers Row" high in the convention's nosebleed seats.

Bloggers Row was also first-come-first-served. But unlike the filing center, BloggersRow rated its own Wi-Fi hotspot. "They've worked really hard to get the wireless drops for bloggers," said Tom Burka, editor of Opinions You Should Have (www.tomburka.com), as he updated his convention blog. "But other journalists have discovered we have Wi-Fi and have been coming up to our section."

Bloggers provided fresh voices of significance beyond their small numbers. "We don't just blog the speeches," said Sean Munson of www.logicalrealism.org, who explained that bloggers get out and talk to people to provide unique stories about the convention. "It's up in the air as to how important blogs will be overall," said Carl Brooks of Media Nation (www.medianation.umb.edu) a partnership between UMass Boston's Center on Media and Society and Harvard University's Nieman Foundation. "I bet that if you add up all the blog readers, they still come in well under the viewership of CNN or whatever. They are influential—that can't be denied—and if any of them get something really good, it could really make their fortune. I think that the Democrats have mainly brought them in for color and for credibility among the Internet crowd, who are by and large non-partisan and highly unimpressed by the political process."