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  • Sky Box by Jay Rosen

    A blogger's view of the convention and the press

    Tuesday, August 24, 2004

    Welcome to Sky Box (and Why Are We Calling it That?) 

    Welcome. This is my convention blog. During the Republican National Convention, I will be a contributing writer for Knight Ridder's Washington bureau, credentialed to cover the event for them, working out of their space in the Post Office building, across 8th Avenue from Madison Square Garden.

    Sky Box will be my forum. There's a team of Knight Ridder journalists who are continuing a weblog experiment they began last month in Boston. Very soon we'll have a special page where you can find all the K R people who are blogging the RNC, and I will link to it.

    I decided to call this page Sky Box because I see the network sky boxes with their blazing logos--NBC, ABC, CBS, CNN, Fox, MSNBC, PBS--as part of the iconography of a political convention. A key part.

    But "reading" what this image says has gotten harder and harder, as the big broadcast networks have shrunk their coverage to three hours, while the cable channels go end-to-end, and yet talk over the event for most of their time on air. What happens inside the sky boxes, where producers make TV of the convention, is still important. And for Americans who are viewers of political television, the vantage point of the sky box is totally familiar.

    Yet we might never think about it as a "position" of its own.

    We're used to watching Brit Hume of Fox or Judy Woodruff of CNN talk to us about politics, while behind them is a window on the convention hall itself-- a frame. The sensation is of inhabiting a scenic overlook. Intellectually, it's a position that promotes analysis, a step back, the broad overview, the look beyond. Televisually, it's a command post for the correspondents who fan out below you. Psychologically, it's about the power of being "above" the action--above politics--with that commanding view. Who owns these boxes when the convention leaves town? Big shots!

    So the sky box is supposed to say Big Media and all the glamour of Big Media is supposed to come through the frame. When you're out on the floor of the convention, and your eye scans the arena, the TV sky boxes hover overhead. ABC News. CNN. MSNBC. Fox. These bright brand names in news form an interpretive ring around the action.

    You can sometimes look up and see the silhouette of a known newscaster, and you realize they're on the air in that box, reporting on the convention by ignoring what's happening at it now, where you are--near the podium, on "the floor." And it's at these moments that a reporter might ask himself: where does a political convention actually "happen," most of the time? If I want to get closer to it, where do I go?

    One answer is: go to the sky boxes where the hook up with the big audience is being made. There you join the Mississippi of attention streams-- the TV audience. Go there to find the convention being shaped into an event.

    In 2004, the view from the Network boxes doesn't have the significance it once did. During the era when conventions were re-made into television-friendly events, a lot of political power was "pulled" upward. It got deposited in the hands of a relative few: network producers and the people they put on the air-- the anchormen, their correspondents, hired experts and guests. Now a lot of that power is being re-distributed downward as the conventions change into party "message-fests" that go out to Americans through many different devices, which is why 12,000 to 15,000 media people show up.

    The best symbol of this shift was the big surprise CNN sprung on its competitors at the Democratic National Convention in Boston: a small broadcasting platform (a studio, in effect) right on the floor of the Fleet Center. In a sense this meant abandoning the pretense of the sky box: that its cosmic "overview" was the right view. The news is brought down to earth, put into the mix, in the shift from one set to another-- sky box to floor. (Of course, the network used both locations in Boston, and drew on both ideas.)

    The sky boxes still matter, they're still icons, but underneath them and all around the hall, other ways of connecting Americans to the convention are showing up. This blog is one. I told you why I'm calling it Sky Box. But I haven't told you what I plan to do in this space, as the RNC approaches and the atmosphere in New York (which is also my home) heats up.

    Sky Box, an image of the conventions as media event, which is also a fading image, is just the name of the album. The songs are still to come.

    CyberJournalist.Net had this overview of Knight-Ridder's convention blogging from Boston.

    Jay Rosen

    Jay Rosen is a press critic and writer whose primary focus is the media's role in a democracy. He is blogging the GOP convention for Knight Ridder. He can be reached at

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       •  August 2004
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