Local AAN Papers Prepare for GOP Convention in Philly

Publishers win right to keep newsracks on the street during the event.

With little more than a week before Philadelphia welcomes thousands of visitors to the GOP Convention, local AAN papers are ready for the historic event. Philadelphia Weekly and Philadelphia City Paper are both prepared to deploy their editorial resources to cover the first national political convention to be held in the city in 50 years.

The Weekly devoted its cover this week to a story detailing the money expected to be dumped into the local economy by Republicans doling out cash for everything from hotel rooms to strippers.

While conventioneers are in town from July 31-Aug. 3, there will be “Four days for us to clean up our act, stow our surly attitude [and] open our flabby arms to the some 45,000 attendees,” Weekly reporter Hobart Rowland wrote in “Here Comes Daddy Big Bucks!”, which is illustrated with photographs of strippers clad in red, white and blue tube tops. “If all goes as planned, the GOP Convention should pump about $400 million into the local economy — an estimated $125 million right off the bat, and perhaps another $275 million in trickle-down cash. Call it a ripple effect.”

The City Paper took a different angle with its first convention story, securing an exclusive interview with presidential candidate Alan Keyes. Although the profile explains how Keye’s campaign went down in flames, it acknowledges his magnetic power in front of an audience.

“Part motivational speaker and part Southern preacher, Keyes can hold a crowd in the palm of his hand and keep them there for as long as he wants,” wrote Daryl Gale in his cover story “Odd Man Out” of the ultra-conservative politician. “Of Keyes’ extraordinary speechmaking prowess, noted columnist and political commentator David Broder once said, ‘He makes Jesse Jackson sound like a stutterer.'”

Both papers will step up their coverage this week and, once the convention begins, both plan to refresh their web sites with frequent updates.

Weekly Senior Editor Liz Spikol said her team of reporters will hit the streets hard to provide an alternative twist to the round-the-clock coverage from the convention floor. They’ll interview residents in city neighborhoods “to see if they give a shit” about the convention. They also plan to issue pop quizzes to test the man-in-the-street’s knowledge of politics, and they will rate the protesting skills of the 50+ groups descending on the City of Brotherly Love to unleash a healthy dose of civil disobedience.

The City Paper was less forthright with its plans; News Editor Howard Altman said he didn’t want to give away any secrets.

“We have a lot of reporters geared up for some pretty intense coverage,” was all he was willing to tell us.

Nevertheless, Altman said he was interested in syndicating to other AAN papers the convention-related stories generated by his staff. Each story will be “tailor-made” to fit an editor’s specification. If you are interested, please contact Altman by calling 215-735-8444 ext. 208 or e-mailing him at altman@citypaper.net.

Later this week, Altman will play host to an “alternative bus tour” for his fellow scribblers in town to cover the convention. According to City Paper Publisher Paul Curci, sightseeing spots will include the site of the Mumia Abu Jamal incident and the mayor’s house, which is noted for the fleet of monster trucks and vans parked outside. Apparently, the Official Philadelphia 2000 Committee isn’t thrilled with the whole idea, but not because the hosts plan to ply their guests with free beer.

Meanwhile, the dispute between Philadelphia police and the city’s publishers over newracks appears to have been resolved.

Last month, police announced that they planned to remove 2,000 newsracks from Center City locations during the convention so they couldn’t be hurled through windows by convention protestors, as reported by AAN News.

Just prior to the announcement, newspaper publishers and city officials had reached an agreement to test a pilot program of newsrack “corrals,” open-ended enclosures used to house individual newsracks. Curci said 25 corrals have already been erected in Center City.

According to Curci, when police learned about the agreement, they amended their proposal. Rather than demand the removal of all downtown boxes, the police proposed a temporary exile of the 350 racks that are in close proximity to the convention center where the GOP confab will be held. The publishers objected and the two sides agreed to meet.

This Tuesday, police and city publishers reached a compromise, according to Curci and Weekly Publisher Jim McDonald. The newsracks will be allowed to stay as long as they are secured with the quarter-inch thick, plastic-coated cable deployed by USA Today to anchor its boxes to the ground. Both Curci and McDonald said the plastic-coated cable is more difficult to cut than the chains currently used by their papers.

All of the news organizations that attended the meeting agreed to the compromise. Publishers had until Thursday to comply with the agreement, Curci said, or they were at risk of having their newsracks removed.

Police Inspector Jim Tiano, who was involved in the newsrack discussions, declined to comment, stating that he didn’t want to reveal his department’s “strategy” prior to the convention.

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