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Republican National Convention Blues

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TAMPA, Fla. -- The storm-delayed GOP convention has led me to propound a mathematical law of journalism for the 21st century. I'll call it Tampa's Law, for the place and time that made it so sadly evident.

The law states that the newsworthiness of an event varies inversely and in precise proportion to the number of media members involved in covering it, writing about it and showing it.

A corollary of Tampa's Law states that the newsworthiness of an event varies inversely to the number of U.S. Secret Service, FBI, National Guard, state troopers, sheriffs and local police who are assigned to provide security for it -- and to the number of bomb-sniffing dogs, newly purchased surveillance cameras and human checkpoints that a civilian (or reporter) must navigate to enter the space in which the alleged news is being committed.

Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein broke Watergate. Thousands of reporters here are breaking next to nothing. It's not their fault: there's no news.

The conventions are a kind of logical absurdity, containing and representing the "old" media at its worst even while lamely trying to adapt to the new. The fact is that only the experienced engineers, camera operators and TV networks can transmit live to the world such a real-time event. But it is an event that long ago ceased having any meaning related specifically to the presence of so many people in one place. So it's big because ... it's big.

The only "news" here will be created by Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan in the speeches they give. Will they connect convincingly with America? Answering that has nothing to do with the presence -- or absence -- of particular people in the hall or in the City of Tampa.

And yet, Tropical Storm Isaac notwithstanding, there are 15,000 journalists accredited to this Republican convention. There are some 50,000 security forces of one kind another, many with rifles slung over their shoulder. I don't know how many dogs there are, but a lot.

I made the mistake of going to the Tampa Bay Times Forum -- the convention hall -- Sunday night. I drove. I had to pass through FIVE checkpoints, most with truck-stopping raised metal barriers. The trunk and engine hood were inspected. I felt like I was entering an outpost of the Green Zone in Baghdad.

As for the media, the five TV networks that share pool duty and spend their own money on individual efforts will spend as much as $10 million on the week in Tampa, I'm told.

And yet it's been years -- 1976 and 1980 -- since the conventions meant anything as unscripted, real news events. The delegates increasingly are powerless non-entities; little or nothing happens that wasn't decided long in advance.

If Mitt and Paul had gone to a studio somewhere, or picked a nice friendly crowd in front of which to speak, we could have all stayed home and watched, and used the time and money for reporting that matters -- and that usually happens when a journalist strikes out on his or her own in pursuit of a story.

And yes, I know: I'm here. So who am I to talk? Well, this is what they call in law an "admission against interest." But I know an overburdened, archaic, doomed institution when I see one.

In this case I see two: the convention and the traditional media spending so much time and money covering it.

Republican National Convention 2012
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