3:19 pm Aug. 30, 2012
TAMPA, Fla.—Last night, the digital media company Buzzfeed hosted a party at the Florida Aquarium here, serving up in the splashiest possible way the convention-coverage newcomers' running theme of politics and cute, awesome and LOL animals together in one place. (Penguins Sunny and Rocky were the stars of the show, wheeled around in carts for pictures.)
Buzzfeed founder Jonah Peretti has said over and over again that he started to see his site, which finds viral content and spins it all over the web, missing out on the increasing virality of political news.
That's why, at the beginning of this year, he brought in Politico's Ben Smith to start a politics vertical. In just eight months, it's a measure of how far they've come that they can throw a convention party that attracts the cream of the media crop, from Maureen Dowd to Chuck Todd to Jill Abramson and on and on.
In the minds of many in the mainstream media, Buzzfeed hadn't really arrived, no matter how many cute animal videos they posted and how many millions clicked on them, until they arrived in Tampa. Politics is, within the media, a glamor category now. With this party, Buzzfeed declared itself.
The fact that actual Republican political powerhouses were thin on the ground was quite beside the point. For some years now, there have been two celebrity sets at these conventions, operating in parallel and only sometimes intersecting; and then, almost always, on the convention floor, where news goes to die. One of those celebrity sets is the media, and the other is the politicians.
And really, if you aren't a delegate and you didn't look out the window too much you might find yourself hard-pressed to remember you were in Tampa for the Republican National Convention and not in Times Square at a convention of the country's biggest news media companies.
The big players, in addition to boxes on the convention floor and filing centers inside the convention center where actually work is being done, also have "hubs" open to credentialed convention-goers offering up other fare besides the news: The chance to rub elbows with other media people. It's like a series of constantly-running parties with different themes.
In 2008 the idea of the media setting up a hub that pivoted on socializing, on that serendipitous experience of schmoozing so central to successful life in New York City and D.C. was novel. CNN jumped terrifically in to the fray with the CNN Grill in Denver in 2008, serving free food and milkshakes all day every day making it the nucleus for much of the insider conversation that took place there and subsequently relevant in a way it might not have otherwise been.
But that's child's play compared to what's going on here in Tampa. The RNC, once famous for its closed-off parties funded by swanky campaign donors seem this year to have faded into obscurity. The swanky stuff is all on the media side.
In addition to the CNN Grill, now housed in a converted parking garage deep inside the perimeter and next to the stadium, The Huffington Post, Politico, and Bloomberg have also set up impressive shops.
Just over the bridge from the convention center is The Bloomberg Link, housed on the second floor of the Westin Hotel the suitably professional space—anyone who has been to the Bloomberg mezzanine cafeteria space on Lexington Avenue and 59th Street knows they don't skimp on social spaces—boasts white carpets, power charging stations, large TV screens, a polished cafeteria along one wall, and the sort of fridge most single New Yorkers would consider a serious upgrade from home.
Here's what it looks like:
The other night Charlie Rose, who PBS show is based out of Bloomberg in NYC was spotted prowling a cocktail party here, as was the towering Lis Smith, the young woman in charge of Obama's online rapid response.
The Link is hosting events throughout the convention. Yesterday there was a panel with Thomas Friedman, and in the afternoon T. Boone Pickens arrived. In between, people eat and talk.
Jo Piazza, who now works for Current TV, is on her sixth convention cycle.
This time around, she told me, it felt a little like Sundance.
"I think next step is going full blown swag suites; Sean Jean jackets in red white and blue and pop-up botox stations."
And when a real politics person does show up in one of these spots for something unscripted, it doesn't always go well.
At the CNN Grill last night, as reporters gathered to watch Paul Ryan's speech, Rick Santorum settled in at a table and held court with a group of friends, talking through the speech, with his back to the screen.
Then again, Santorum's also been a media guy before. Maybe he'll make a comeback (though probably not on Fox?).
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