Media Blitzkrieg: The GOP Debate and the Cleveland-Narrative Narrative

click to enlarge MSNBC's Kasie Hunt, posing with His Majesty. - Via @Kasie
Via @Kasie
MSNBC's Kasie Hunt, posing with His Majesty.
The streets of Cleveland were abuzz, Thursday evening, with the click and chatter of political operatives and national reporters. The first Republican National Debate was performed for a crowd of 5,000 at the Quicken Loans Arena, and hundreds flew to Northeast Ohio to see Trump and the gang live.

“It really did feel like a mini National Convention,” TIME Political Reporter Zeke Miller told Scene. “I bumped into four or five reporters on my way from the Q back to the Marriott.”

Indeed, reporters were everywhere, scattered among the region’s trendiest bars after they’d filed their harried updates and debate takeaways. Miller, who was in town Tuesday evening through Friday morning, said he spent some time on E. 4th, and considered it “a bit more vibrant” than when he was last in town in 2012, covering Mitt Romney.

That’s a start. Destination Cleveland and the Greater Cleveland Partnership have long been assuring locals that an event like the RNC, with more media frenzy than even the Superbowl, will do wonders for the ongoing rehabilitation of Cleveland’s image. Thousands of journalists will have no choice but to narrate the story of the city's revival, they say.

But it’s unclear if that will be so. Thursday morning, MSNBC ran a segment entitled “Two Clevelands” which featured an out-of-work Slavic Village resident talking about the plight of the city’s poor. Bloomberg ran a story by reporter (and former Clevelander) Michael C. Bender about the Health Line and Republican outreach in Cleveland’s predominantly black east side.

It’s not that these stories are explicitly negative. (Any press is good press, right?) It’s just that expecting national reporters to function as part of the Destination Cleveland PR apparatus may not be realistic.

Although it might not even be necessary. Clevelanders, already a fiercely tribal bunch, have staked out Twitter and have showered naysayers with wild invective. BuzzFeed's Trump correspondent Olivia Nuzzi, who made the mistake of Tweeting “I hated Cleveland,” endured a sustained, boorish onslaught, though the told Scene she found the encounter “hilarious.”

Who needs a tourism bureau, she asked, when Cleveland has all these ambassadors on social media?

On the flip side, Destination Cleveland opines — and this is true — that even if the national press isn’t putting out stories about how great Cleveland is, the fact that reporters have a positive experience is important. MSNBC’s Kasie Hunt, who helmed the “Two Clevelands” piece, tweeted: “Cleveland — this has rocked,” upon her departure. Others happily, and with no provocation, posted photos of meals and brews on W. 25th and E. 4th.

“Social media activity helps us to change Cleveland’s narrative in a different way, as people are telling about their positive experiences in their own words,” wrote Destination Cleveland’s Jennifer Kramer, in an email to Scene.

David Gilbert, Destination Cleveland’s President and CEO (and RNC Host Committee Prez and CEO) echoed that the mere presence of media is important.

“We were excited to see that many of them were reporting from outside Quicken Loans Arena and talking with our residents and using aerial shots of our beautiful skyline and revitalized downtown,” he said. “All of these opportunities can be leveraged to change the perception of what Cleveland offers. Hosting the debate in Cleveland only further underscores our city as a destination for meetings and continues to keep our community, its people and our renaissance in the spotlight.”

And Cleveland will be even more directly in the spotlight come 2016, for a much longer stretch.

Zeke Miller said that TIME intends to send anywhere between 10-20 staffers, including some editors, for the convention next year. And that number may increase. They’re still having early conversations about how they’ll tackle the convention, and Miller said that at this point most of his editors’ interest in Cleveland is self-interest.

“They’re interested in scouting reports for next summer,” Miller said. “But the Cleveland rebound is an interesting narrative, and the question will be whether or not it works for us. We’re certainly cognizant of it as a storyline.”

As for impressions of Cleveland today, Miller said he was struck by how much construction was going on around town.

“Whether it was the airport, the highways, [Public Square]... It was a little inconvenient in the short term, but hopefully it will all be ready for next year,” he said. “The sign outside the Square said ‘ready by Summer of 2016,’ and I’m hoping that’s June and not July.”

About The Author

Sam Allard

Sam Allard is the Senior Writer at Scene, in which capacity he covers politics and power and writes about movies when time permits. He's a graduate of the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University and the NEOMFA at Cleveland State. Prior to joining Scene, he was encamped in Sarajevo, Bosnia, on an...
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