News and Updates

April 29, 2024 News

RNC highlights host state with Wisconsin Media Row

When the Republican National Convention comes to Milwaukee in July, some 50,000 people including thousands of reporters from around the world will get a front-row seat to the kickoff of another pivotal and tumultuous election season.

And thanks to a new cooperative effort that has been years in the making, local Wisconsin reporters will be seated front and center.

For the first time, the RNC has created a local media area as part of what is known as Media Row, where hordes of politicos, delegates and maybe even a few celebrities flock to connect with radio and TV broadcasters, internet podcasters and social media influencers. If you’ve ever been to a bustling trade expo, you can imagine the chaos.

Wisconsin Media Row, with 24 local media organizations participating, could serve as a model for future national party conventions to ensure home state journalists don’t get lost in the crowd.

The idea began back in 2019, when I was the state politics editor at the Wisconsin State Journal. I encouraged the Democratic National Convention to create a home state media zone within the vast convention footprint. There was initial interest, but once COVID struck, the 2020 convention in Milwaukee didn’t quite convene as expected.

When Republicans announced in August 2022 they also had selected Milwaukee for their big nominating bash, I was just starting as the statehouse bureau chief at Wisconsin Watch, the state’s now 15-year-old nonprofit investigative center.

With our focus primarily on deep-dive investigative reporting, Wisconsin Watch’s role at the 2024 RNC wasn’t immediately clear. National conventions are mostly made-for-TV productions, not exactly the best place to comb through government records or understand the problems afflicting regular folks.

But Wisconsin Watch has always been a collaborator. We provide our in-depth reporting to readers and news outlets free of charge and work closely to report and edit stories with partner organizations.

I’ve also had the good fortune to cover two national conventions in my career.

In 2004, as a Northwestern University journalism grad student, I was embedded as an intern with the Associated Press at the RNC in New York City. That meant I got to empty trash bins wearing a full suit and tie. I also did a sit-down interview with Stephen Colbert, who was doing a “Daily Show” bit on the massive protests outside the convention, right before he left to start his own show. (I hear it worked out for him.)

In 2016 I covered the Wisconsin delegation in Cleveland for the State Journal. That time I interviewed delegates like Gov. Scott Walker and Attorney General Brad Schimel on the convention floor during the iconic balloon drop. I also ran into Jordan Klepper of “The Daily Show” in a hallway and wished him well just before he launched his own show. (It got canceled.)

Those experiences inspired my ideas about how to organize Wisconsin Media Row.

The pitch was simple: At every national convention the big dog news outlets spend gobs of cash to build fully functional newsrooms. They look like bustling villages with walls, desks, doors and, in some cases, fully lit broadcast booths. Small news outlets serving the public in one of the most crucial swing states lack the resources to reserve the same space.

The RNC event planning team quickly supported the idea and provided space in the Panther Arena, located closer to where the main action will be in Fiserv Forum than the Baird Center, where most news outlets will set up their villages.

“We have said from the get-go that the 2024 Republican National Convention will be a Wisconsin convention,” RNC Committee on Arrangements CEO Elise Dickens said. “That’s why we’re so excited about our Wisconsin Media Row, the first-of-its-kind hub for local Wisconsin outlets to connect with a wide range of surrogates. Wisconsin Media Row will be the heartbeat of Media Row — a reflection of how committed our convention and party are to Wisconsin as we head into November.”

Over the past few months a wide range of Wisconsin newspaper, radio, TV and online outlets from every corner of the state agreed to participate in this Wisconsin idea.

Those organizations include: BizTimes Milwaukee; Civic Media; Good Karma Brands (620 WTMJ and 101.7 the Truth); Gray Television (on behalf of WEAU and KBJR); Milwaukee Business Journal; Milwaukee Journal Sentinel; Spectrum News 1; The Cap Times; Urban Milwaukee; WBAY-TV; WDJT-TV, CBS 58 Milwaukee; WFRV-TV; WISC-TV; Wisconsin Examiner; Wisconsin Public Radio; Wisconsin State Journal; Wisconsin Watch; WisconsinEye; WisPolitics; WJFW NBC-12; WKBT-TV; WLUK-TV; WMTV 15 News; and WSAW-TV.

Erin McGroarty, politics and state government reporter for The Cap Times in Madison, said her organization “is thrilled to participate.”

“Having the availability of this workspace, the opportunity to work collaboratively in the same space with other Wisconsin reporters and increased access to convention officials will provide a key benefit to all of our collective readers, listeners and viewers across the state,”  McGroarty said.

These organizations plan to report live from the convention to give Wisconsin’s viewers and news consumers at home the front row seat to this backyard event they deserve.

View the full article here: