My estimate of the crowd at the Tuesday Blue Cross Blue Shield rally was way off. I guessed 100, but Keith Tubbs at Pro-Vote tells me that the sign-in sheet had 175 names and that they didn’t get everybody signed in. That’s a very respectable turnout for a workday lunchtime demonstration. So people–aka the organizers and just about everyone I talked to at the end of the rally–were disappointed that, other than me, the only media person to show was Jo Mannies of The Beacon.
I heard more than one person wondering if the press considered pro-reform people by themselves too dull to cover. You can understand them having that suspicion, considering that the press has been all over the tea party uproar for the last couple of months. To reinforce that theory, a couple of people mentioned the pitiful lack of coverage at the 2,000 person rally at the IBEW hall at the end of August. For that one, Mannies showed and the local Fox affiliate. That’s better coverage than for this recent event, but still, not enough for a 2,000 person rally. On the supposition that the media want excitement, one seventy year old lady joked that if it would get the cameras to the rally, she’d be willing to strip. Then she glanced down at her less than svelte figure and said, “No wait. You all would suffer.”
I tried to get a reaction to this paranoia by calling the Post-Dispatch yesterday afternoon, but I haven’t gotten a return call. Even without a response from them, though, I can offer a couple of possible reasons for the low media turnout at the two events.
Glenn Burleigh, the head field organizer for ACORN in St. Louis, says that OFA wanted to handle the press outreach for the IBEW rally, and he says that their insistence on doing so had a downside, namely that in these days of rampant layoffs at newspapers, the official press contact person at any given media outlet is likely to have changed in the last few months. Local organizers know who the current press contact person is and therefore might do a more effective job of getting the media to attend.
But, of course, local organizers were the ones contacting the press for Tuesday’s event. They do know whom to contact and they did it. Pro-Vote is the lead organization in the metro area for HCAN, and Tubbs, the St. Louis Regional Organizer there, tells me that Pro-Vote called media outlets well in advance to notify them, sent out a media advisory and a press release, and made reminder calls the morning of the event.
Tubbs mentioned that there have been a couple of smaller events held in front of the Blue Cross Blue Shield offices in St. Louis this summer, involving perhaps 25 people each time; and he speculated that perhaps the press didn’t care to cover what they thought would be another small event. They didn’t realize close to 200 people were going to show up.
That sounds like a reasonable assumption, but neither he nor I have no way of knowing for sure that he’s correct. We do know one thing for sure: Jo Mannies showed up and reported on both. Although Mannies devoted almost half her article to rebuttal from Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield, at least she was there, as she is at virtually every political event I attend where the press has been invited. But the Post-Dispatch? Much less dependable. KSDK? Same story. KMOV? Ditto. Oddly enough, the local Fox station is more dependable about covering these events than the other two stations.
Update: Alan Achkar, the deputy metro editor at the Post, just called and discussed our concerns about the lack of coverage. He emphasized that it had nothing to do with us being less flamboyant than the tea party. And in fact, he noted that the Post hasn’t covered many tea party events, only those where–because of large numbers or potential conflict–it would be irresponsible not to cover it.
Furthermore, he said: “I can’t tell you how many rallies are held in St. Louis every week”. He pointed out that there were five today, and not only could the Post not cover them all, the paper prefers not to cover rallies unless they are large. He didn’t know, without researching it, why the Post didn’t attend the rally at the IBEW hall, but agreed that national organizations often send announcements of rallies to a media outlet without the name of a particular person there, so that the information falls through the cracks.
As for last Tuesday’s rally, he said that if the organizers didn’t indicate what sort of attendance they expected, that would have lowered the chances of getting it covered.