What Will Political Convention Coverage Look Like During a Pandemic?

Different convention approaches mean changes from the broadcast side

MSNBC at the 2016 RNC
MSNBC at the 2016 Republican National Convention.
Erik Drost/Creative Commons

The summer before a Presidential election usually abounds with images of the Republican and Democratic National Conventions. These generally fall into familiar categories: the party’s nominee receiving the nomination, cheering delegates on the floor and a parade of VIPs making speeches — some memorable and some bizarre. But 2020 is not a typical election year, and the conventions set for this summer will also be different.

The Democratic National Convention is set to be a largely virtual one. Given the ongoing pandemic and the dangers of crowded indoor events, this is an eminently understandable decision. The Republican National Convention announced a move to Florida earlier this year, though current COVID-19 conditions there have raised logistical questions.

What can viewers at home expect in terms of convention coverage? It’s fair to say that neither major party’s convention will take place along familiar lines. At The New York Times, Michael M. Grynbaum explores how journalists are planning to cover these conventions this summer. According to the article, the result will be a lot less on-the-ground coverage:

In response, many TV networks are now planning to keep correspondents stationed outside the convention venues, where the risk of transmission is lower. Instead of sitting in custom-built skybox studios, many anchors and commentators will offer analysis from desks in Washington and New York — or from their home quarantines.

Fox News anchor Brett Baier told Grynbaum that he expected “[a] smaller team” than in previous years. And NBC News president Noah Oppenheim spoke of wanting to keep the network’s staff safe. “We are not going to send our reporters into packed arenas, if such things exist,” Oppenheim said.

Much like many forms of media, convention coverage will break from the norms this year. Will it still provide insights into what the election will hold? For the answer to that, we’ll all need to tune in soon.

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