World-class event gives media a glimpse of America

Updated: 2012-09-01 08:00

By Tan Yingzi in Tampa, Florida (China Daily)

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World-class event gives media a glimpse of America

As a first-timer at a US political party convention, I found myself underdressed and inadequately prepared for this week's gathering of Republicans in Florida.

Despite having researched the election-year event, I was extremely anxious before heading to the coastal city of Tampa: What to write, whom to interview, what to bring, where to go, and even what to wear.

To cover the Republican National Convention from a Chinese perspective for China Daily readers, I decided to focus on foreign policy and trade issues.

Mitt Romney, who was officially nominated on Tuesday as his party's presidential challenger to US President Barack Obama, had made some pointed remarks about China during the campaign, so my reporting priorities seemed on target.

Concerned over the prospect of stormy weather amid warnings about tropical storm Isaac, long hours and amped-up air conditioning inside the convention, I ditched my high-heeled shoes and fancy dresses and chose to wear simpler, more comfortable clothes. I've been regretting that decision since the minute I saw so many fabulously well-dressed journalists at the Tampa Convention Center on Monday.

In my 11 years with China Daily, I have attended big international conferences and events. In my book, the RNC is a world-class event in terms of security, organization, media coverage - and fashion standards.

With about 50,000 people expected to visit Tampa during the four-day convention, including nearly every influential Republican and many foreign diplomats, security was overwhelming. Tall chain-link fences and barricades surround major buildings, helicopters fly overhead and speedboats whiz by bridges in Tampa Bay; Florida state troopers along with FBI and Secret Service agents blanket the downtown.

About 15,000 journalists are registered to cover the convention, a scale nearly on par with the Olympics.

"We have media representatives from every continent with the exception of Antarctica," James Davis, the RNC communications director, said in an e-mail.

Going through security checks reminded me of the 2008 Beijing Olympics, where I also had to turn on my computer and shoot a photo with my camera at checkpoints.

Inside the convention center, which is serving as a media center during the RNC, all major US television networks, wire services and some foreign news outlets have set up operations.

Like any political party convention, the Republican gathering is mainly about domestic issues and intended for a US audience. But foreign journalists can find plenty of things to cover.

In the first two days, I attended foreign-policy panels featuring Republican heavyweights such as former secretary of state Condoleezza Rice and Romney's top foreign-policy adviser, Richard Williamson.

Narayan Lakshman, Washington correspondent for the Indian newspaper The Hindu, also a convention newcomer, was "pleasantly surprised" by delegates' friendly attitude toward the media.

"People are really happy to talk," he said.

The US presidential election is a big topic in Indian media, too, and Lakshman has filed stories about developments inside and outside of the convention as well as on Republicans of Indian descent.

His most unforgettable experience was getting trapped with a group of Occupy Tampa protesters by riot police on Sunday.

"It was intense," he said. "But it was very fun and I really enjoyed it."

Alf Ole Ask, a reporter for Aftenposten, Norway's biggest daily, joked that his country is the "51st state" because of the large Norwegian-American population.

"There are 5 million people in Norway and there are 5 million people of Norwegian origin in the (United) States," Ask said. "Every family in Norway seems to have some relation in America."

Ask has written about Paul Ryan, the vice-presidential nominee; Ann Romney, the candidate's wife; and immigration issues. Besides luminaries he has met people who are very different from the type of Americans a foreign journalist typically encounters in New York or Washington.

"It's a place for learning about US politics," he observed.

Many journalists, including me, are pleased with the availability of interview subjects as well as the event's smooth organization and security protections. But there is one complaint.

"The food at the convention center is really bad," Ask said. "I have never seen less healthy food than this. And it's very expensive."

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