Pricking The Underbelly

Lackluster alt weekly convention coverage, and examples for next time

One thing that was sorely lacking from the past two weeks of convention spotlighting was good alt weekly coverage. Denver’s Westword and St. Paul-Minneapolis’s City Pages, both Village Voice Media entities, cross-linked their blogs, titled respectively, Demver and Elephants in the Room. But even with the collaborative ink, the stories were predictable fare.

Westword’s most-touted recurring convention gimmick was a cartoon-prose characterization combo of the Democratic delegates by state, by cartoonist Kenny Be. Here’s a taste:

Wyoming delegates in Denver, for one, would be wearing “April Cornell® for Orvis collection of side-yoked skirts and smocked dresses” (women) and “Riviera® Wrinkle-Resistant Dress Pants and Nat Nast® Panhandle Slim Camp Shirts with H.S.Trask® bison-leather oxfords and two pair of socks” (men). Wisconsinites, on the other hand, would feel they have something to prove, 50 years after McCarthy’s glory days, and “dress to avenge…[in] gold and green Joe PackerFan bodylifter pants with a variety of favorite sweatshirts, the newness of which corresponds directly to the formality of the occasion.”

It would be one thing if it were steadily funny, but take this doozy: “Californians will be the most gorgeous delegates in Denver, with the best haircuts, most stylish clothes and most beautiful smiles.” (Yes, we get it. Hollywood. Sun. Shine.) And anyway, isn’t it a bit prosaic to mock the delegates so thoroughly?

City Pages decided to go for the real deal with photos of the Republican delegates on the convention floor, but maybe there was some conference calling between the two blogs, because the tone was pretty much the same in its version:

…it seemed fitting to commemorate [Sarah Palin’s] impeding coronation as queen of American conservatism by locating the Republicaniest Republican in the convention hall. The field, as you might imagine, was bewilderingly vast and competitive.

Memo: the “we’re on safari, check out the wildlife” theme is not that funny. The check out the delegates mission is documented with pictures of delegates looking bored, or wearing elephant trunks on their heads. The winner? A twenty-four-year-old public-office-seeking young man that, you got it, Looks Like a Young Republican. (Tortoise-shell frames. Side part. Broad-shouldered.)

Is that the best these cross-linking alt weekly sites could do? Consolidation of the alt weeklies under VVM has had loyal readers biting their nails for years, and the above appear to be the somewhat sad results: easy humor posing as cleverness, recycled points of view, and a depressing lack of freshness. Where were the witty pinpricks to the two-party political underbelly this past week, or barring that, the stories that were simply original?

It’s too late now, but next time—even with the Hand of Homogenizing Editorial Taste caressing your back—it might help to keep a couple of things in mind.

If you’re going to write about something rather predictable, at least make the zings clever, as did the Boston Phoenix with its guide to protesting the 2004 DNC in Boston:

Whatever message you’ve come to disseminate — MEAT IS MURDER; DISSENT IS PATRIOTIC; DECRIMINALIZE POT; STOP ABUSING WORKERS’ RIGHTS; THE REVOLUTION WILL NOT BE MOTORIZED; END REALITY TV — you obviously want to write it on something, since the television stations will probably drown your chanting with voice-over narration. Cambridge’s Pearl Fine Arts is one of the best art stores in the area, with every kind of marker, paintbrush, and poster-board size imaginable.

And if you’re just going for a good, original story, take a page from this Village Voice article, which ran during the 2004 RNC in New York City, about a German network using a marathon runner to deliver taped coverage of an anti-Republican march:

On Sunday morning in Manhattan, a producer for the German network ZDF turned to Stefani Jackenthal, handed her a DVCPRO tape, and said, “Go.” Jackenthal once completed a 10-day adventure race that mixed trail running with mountain biking and kayaking…. But when Jackenthal set off at 11:23 a.m., it wasn’t to contend with rapids and rocks, but to… [get] material from ZDF’s reporters down in Chelsea through the march and back to the broadcast base near Madison Square Garden. The march was expected to reach them around noon, but the ZDF crew had to have footage ready by 12:50 p.m. in order to make the German evening news.

And Jackenthal performed, “racing through the maze of protesters, cops, and media to deliver footage before ZDF’s deadline.” It took her eight minutes.

Now, VVM or no, that’s a good convention story for the books.

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Jane Kim is a writer in New York.