Towards a Media-Free Convention

The Democratic convention, like the Republican convention, and every political convention, is a television event. That is, it is designed and intended expressly to satisfy the audience watching at home, on the screen. The media, gathered here on-site, does not so much "cover" a convention as news as we hold it up, turn it over in our hands, and remark on its qualities, like a bunch of Home Shopping Network hosts talking up a new snow globe.

As it stands, the media is a convenient information distribution system for the political parties. But it would not take much at all to transition to a situation in which the media is left out entirely. Direct-to-consumer spectacle delivery is the future.

"What did you think?" my mom texted me last night after all the speeches. How am I supposed to know? I was in there. I spent much of my evening elbowing through crowds and clearing security and lugging a laptop around and finding somewhere to sit and cussing out the spotty wi-fi. I watched the speeches from an odd angle, with an obscured view and sound that went in and out depending on how loud the crowd was cheering. Even the members of the media with good seats have these problems. The ones who actually needed to discuss the finer points of the speeches in real time all watched it, in their booths, in the arena... on little TVs.

Better to ask an Average American Swing Voter who watched it on their living room couch eating homemade nachos what they thought. They are the target audience. Not the reporters or the pundits or the snide internet commentators, no matter what our own self-regard may tell us. The primary role of the media at these political conventions is to set up their cameras correctly and make sure the picture doesn't go out. All the talking and writing before and afterwards is mere embroidery, tolerated for its unimportance.

What if—let's pretend—we had the sort of media in this country that was very aggressive about challenging power structures, and which scoffed at image-mongering, and which made it a point to refuse to be used as a medium for political machinations, and which adopted a contentious posture towards those in power? Well. Things would be different. The media would not be useful to the political parties that stage these conventions. They would be sand in the gears, rather than the grease that makes everything run more smoothly. So why have us?

These conventions could be covered with a single pool reporter. He could interview the politicians after their speeches, take notes from inside the arena, and write up something about the atmosphere and the logistics. The parties themselves could set up cameras and control them just as they please. All the cable networks would carry the same live feed. The networks could have their own commentators back in the studio. The print reporters could watch the damn thing on TV on like everyone else, while furiously composing their insta-reaction stories. The parties tolerate the media here now because the media furthers the goals of the parties. Were the media to stop doing that, one way or another, there would really be no compelling reason to keep us all around here. The conventions could be stage-managed top to bottom by the political functionaries who plan them for the express purpose of gaining or maintaining political power.

This is not that different from how the conventions are today. Most Average Americans would not miss the media very much at all.