The Digital Journalist
Almost Famous
August 2004

by Tobe Berkovitz

It started as I turned the corner at 8:30 pm Sunday night and got my first look at the Fleet Center. It was a brightly lit concrete box with huge banners proclaiming the Democratic National Convention and Bud Light. It was also a brightly lit box surrounded by 8 foot high black steel fencing. The last piece of the elevated Southeast Expressway running towards the Fleet Center was abruptly cut off over the entrance to the Fleet Center adding to the strange ambience of the area. A vision of Amerika that reminded me of the setting from John Carpenter's "Escape from New York."

I was working with Boston CBS 4 as a political analyst (aka: pundit). After walking along the steel fence for 10 minutes and then going through security, I worked my way through a maze of escalators to the CBS 4 studio space on the 6th floor. It was a skybox retrofitted with cameras, lights and all of the technical goodies needed for broadcasting live from the DNC. The walls and floor of the box were covered with unfinished wallboard. The bathroom was filled with production gear. The producers, tech crew, anchors and reporters were hunkering down for the long 4 days ahead. After talking with the techs and CBS 4 Executive Producer Bob Dumas I wandered around the Fleet Center. The 5th and 6th floors were media central. Miles of cable snaked along the walls. Suites were marked "The News Hour", CBS News, CNN, NBC News, Fox News Channel. Enough recon. I head home.

If it's Monday, it must be the start of the convention. Not having just fallen off the turnip truck, I find a quicker way to get into the Fleet Center and traverse the maze up to the 6th floor. I'm live at noon with CBS 4 anchor Jack Williams. The booth is perfectly located for a great backdrop of the stage, podiums and huge rear projection screen. The chairs at the anchor desk are precariously close to the railing at the end of the luxury box. Getting on the chair will be more of a challenge than delivering my analysis. I'm in the B block. Jack tosses two questions to me. Trained professional that I am, I answer them cleanly. Whew. That takes care of round 1. Now for fun.

I spend the next 10 hours wandering around the Fleet Center. It's the Super Bowl of political and media celebrity watching. One stop shopping. It pays to be a political junkie so you can identify all the Senators and Congress people. If you own a TV set, spotting the reporters, anchors and pundits is a breeze. Like Margaret Mead in Samoa, I study the natives. This is probably the first time Dan Rather, Tom Brokaw, Tim Russert, Bill O'Reilly, Jeff Greenfield, etc., etc. are classified as natives. It provides a great education in human nature. Observing politicians and the gods of the media interacting with each other, with the beautiful people and with the mortals lets you know who's nasty and who's nice. Since I'm a political pundit and not a gossip columnist or paparazzi, you'll have to search other websites for "the rest of the story."

For the next four days it's a mixed bag watching the parade o'politicians deliver their speeches. Tobe's tip; if you are offered the chance to speak between 4:30 pm to 7 pm, don't get too excited about this "honor." The hall is empty and the speakers look weird pouring their hearts out to 15,000 empty seats. Bill Clinton owned the convention hall. Hillary didn't. Barack got the buzz. Teresa was, well Teresa. Edwards had a real flair and a good story effectively told, but the media had watched his act over, and over, and over again on the campaign trail and were too jaded to appreciate it.

I worked two additional CBS 4 newscasts and did a taped stand-up while Kerry and his consulting corps checked out the podium. It was a nice shot of reporter Beth Germano and me with the candidate in the background. I went back to my day job at the Boston University College of Communication and figured I'd return to the CBS 4 studio that night.

I figured wrong. Getting into the Fleet Center was a breeze, but the Dems had overbooked the hall with too many passes. When I arrived the 5th and 6th floors were closed due to overcrowding. There was a certain perverse pleasure watching very self-important people asking the age-old question, "Do you know who I am?" The guards didn't know and didn't care. The fire marshals had closed not just a few floors but the entire building. I did what any shrewd media analyst would do. I decided to go home and watch Kerry's speech on my TV.

It ended with a beauty shot of a full orange moon with a few wispy clouds over the Boston skyline. Much nicer than the guards standing on a Southeast Expressway ramp to nowhere framed by black steel fences.

© Tobe Berkovitz

Tobe Berkovitz is the Associate Dean at Boston University's College of Communication and moonlights as an erstwhile pundit. He can be flamed at