Wednesday, July 09, 2008

CNN a Hindrance at UNITY?

Just read that CNN is going to broadcast the Presidential Candidates' session at the UNITY Journalists gathering in Chicago this month live.

No, it's not breaking news! That information was provided in a June 4th press release. But, what happens if we take time to think about this for a moment.

For those who don't know, every four years, the National Association of Black Journalists (of which I'm a member), the National Association of Hispanic Journalists, the Native American Journalists Association and the Asian American Journalists Association meet simultaneously. That allows them to hold some "joint sessions" at times during their respective annual conventions.

Each of the four journalist groups has its own schedule for the week of July 23-27.

This will be the four such gathering of the alliance callled UNITY Journalists, Inc. The practice began in 1994. The organization's Web site has more about previous UNITY gatherings.

In the past, the presidential candidates or sitting presidents have made it point to address these groups of journalists.

But, 2008 is different. We've never had so many presidential debates during a primary season. The candidates ran the risk of "overexposure," if that was possible during that period this past spring.

After watching (and often videotaping for personal playback later) 80% of the debates during Democratic and Republican Party nomination processes -- the primary season-- I'm just wondering how productive an exchange journalists will have if it's a "made for TV event."

While we may not see CNN's Wolf Blitzer moderating, and pauses for photojournalists to get their photos, bringing in the live cameras for wall-to-wall coverage introduces a dynamic that may not allow for the most frank exchange with the two men who want to succeed G.W. Bush in the White House.

The presence of live cameras totally changes the environment for how reporters relate to high-profile sources like presidential candidates.

It would be naive of me to think that an "off-the-record" session with journalists would be useful or even possible at this stage of the presidential race.

The candidates probably only agreed knowing that there would be an audience of millions watching and that they would be in the presence of a highly-intelligent, keen mostly minority group.

I suppose there is benefit in showcasing UNITY to millions of Americans.

But, I'm a big fan of journalists being able to get insights on "background only" sessions. Is that even feasible with such a large group of journalists at once?

So, is CNN a hindrance or a help to what UNITY is trying to accomplish?

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