Affiliates Game-Plan for Surprise

After months of strategizing, local news teams are heading into the conventions with intricate coverage plans and the latest in broadcast wizardry. But if the wildly unpredictable (read: just plain weird) primary season taught TV journalists anything, it’s that just about anything can happen.

“Although we have a great plan in place, we know we may have to throw it out the window,” says Andy Fishman, news director at WJW, Tribune’s Fox affiliate in Cleveland.

WJW (one of 10 Tribune stations that will be in Cleveland) will leave most of the actual convention coverage to the network, concentrating instead on how issues from traffic to political wrangling affect locals.

Scripps-owned WEWS Cleveland will work closely with ABC News, which will be based at the station. WEWS will have access to the ABC News desk. Given the fervor of demonstrators both pro and con and the violence that has broken out at many Trump rallies, journalists received safety training.

In Philadelphia, NBC O&O WCAU and its sister station, Telemundo WWSI, will be broadcasting in English and Spanish from historic sites throughout the city. During the convention WCAU will add an hour of local news from 7-8 p.m., when NBC News will take over, says news director Anzio Williams.

Meantime, TV stations are also reaping the season’s benefits, as political spending is so far on track. Steve Lanzano, president of the Television Advertising Bureau, says local TV should see the predicted total of $3.3 billion-$ 3.6 billion in political dollars by Election Day, up from $2.9 billion in 2012. That forecast never changed after Trump clinched the nomination, despite worries he wouldn’t need to spend much on ads.

But with 75%-80% of that money usually spent post-conventions, things could change, he says. “This is such a unique year, you can’t use any historical perspective,” Lanzano says.

Sharri Berg, Fox Stations senior VP of news operations, says the group’s master plan for covering the conventions—from news expansions, multiplatform coverage and a convergence of O&Os in both Cleveland and Philadelphia—has been created around just that.

“There will be events and moments that no one can predict, but we will be there in force to cover the characters, the protesters, the breaking news, and we will have all the tools at our disposal to cover anything that happens in a moment’s notice,” Berg says.

One potential juggling act will involve cutting away from the network feed to show events outside the arena. It’s not a far-fetched idea, as protests for and against Trump have created plenty of volatile situations on the campaign trail.

“Cleveland may go down in history books as the most unconventional convention. And we will be ready,” Berg says.