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Press dwells in depths away from bright lights

By Mark Washburn

CHARLOTTE, N.C. In the vast cavern of the Charlotte Convention Center, deep beneath College Street, dozens of curtained cubicles hold the working press.

Estimated at 15,000, media people outnumber delegates about 3-to-1. They are a purposeful lot, largely staring into screens like victims of mass hypnosis. Their chests are festooned with bouquets of colorful badges, levels of access translating into rank.

It is a far cry from the mezzanine of Time Warner Cable Arena, two blocks north, where the glamour media bask in the bright halo of television lights. There, stars of the news firmament are stopped to pose with passers-by for cell phone pictures when dashing out of their aeries to answer nature’s call.

Newspapers, news agencies, prominent websites and back-shop operations for networks are gathered in egg-cartoned acres of the convention center floor. Signs are posted everywhere to help media folk find their way through the maze.

At one major intersection, signs for The New York Times, Washington Post, Politico, USAToday and Charlotte Observer all point to the left; only The Wall Street Journal lies to the right, a vivid illustration of the public’s popular impression of the media’s political orientation.

Most larger pens seem outfitted for hurricane duty. Bottled water, snacks and other pantry rations are mounded. Some of the big outfits, like the Chicago Tribune, have bouncers by the door to ensure the riff-raff doesn’t drift in.

Small television studios are contained within the ramparts of The Wall Street Journal and other multi-media outfits.

Huffington Post has set up camp with a luxury theme. Its snazzy digs feature futuristic furnishings surrounded by white curtains, breaking up the navy blue motif in vogue everywhere else.

If Huffington Post is Boardwalk, the Tampa Bay Times is Baltic Avenue. It is a long fall for Florida’s largest newspaper, which was the big dog at last week’s Republican National Convention. Here, they are stuffed in a makeshift garret against bare masonry. It has the elegance of a freight elevator.

Apparently, there was a mix-up and somehow the Times didn’t get a curtained nest like their neighbors. “It wasn’t even set up when we got here,” said Joni James, deputy editor of editorials, who luckily is a good sport.

Stressed journalists can get quickie back rubs at the convention center or retreat to quiet lounges to recharge the soul.

Those in search of a story can turn to a Charlotte-sponsored booth that dispenses two essentials: names of local experts and Krispy Kreme doughnuts. PR professionals from prominent agencies and major companies are volunteering in six-hour shifts to help guide the visitors. They ask for contacts in the Latin community, those battling poverty locally or how to get in touch with someone for an interview on gay and lesbian issues.

They also dole out video of Charlotte’s skyline, Bank of America Stadium and other local sights. Business is pretty brisk, said Gina Howard, director of communications for the Charlotte Regional Partnership, who was working a shift Tuesday morning.

Journalists of means who want to take keepsakes are well served. Upstairs, a souvenir stand offers Obama hoodies at $45 and Obama T-shirts for $25. More in the budget of professional scribes are DNC shot glasses, just 10 bucks each and perfectly operable.

Washburn: 704-358-5007
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