Saturday, August 25, 2012

Observer is covering conventions from your perspective

Bloomberg will bring 90 people to Charlotte. CNN is sending 100. The Fox News Channel, another 100. In all, 15,000 journalists are predicted to visit for the Democratic National Convention. 

Can you imagine them missing anything you’d want to know? I can.

On Friday, the Observer told you that the Secret Service plans to seal off streets in the heart of Ballantyne during DNC week. Bloomberg, Fox and CNN did not.

Not their mission. But it will be part of ours.

Our media visitors are here for the nation. We’re here for you. That means reporting all that the nation cares about, plus how this convention touches you and your community.

If you’ve read the Observer lately, you know we are already reporting in-depth on the local impact. But we are also prepared for the actual convention. 

In all, the Observer has assigned 85 journalists to cover this moment. They are spread among eight teams, each tackling a specific topic. Those topics range from politics on the convention floor, to protests in the streets, to parties across the region.

One team will focus solely on how Charlotte is doing on this world stage. Were arrivals orderly at the airport? Were there enough cabs? Does the Wi-Fi work? Can visitors find enough places to eat? Are the security checkpoints running smoothly? 

High-caliber extras

For our coverage of the convention itself, we’ll be joined by an additional 20 journalists from our McClatchy Washington Bureau and our sister McClatchy newspapers. This group includes Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist Leonard Pitts and humor columnist Dave Barry.

We’ve also partnered with, a nonpartisan journalism organization based in Washington, D.C. Politico specializes in coverage of the president, Congress and elections. It will have more than 50 journalists here. 

In fact, for DNC week, our newspaper will also be Politico’s designated newspaper. Politico will suspend publication of its printed paper in Washington and, instead, join us in producing a special edition for conventioneers. The best of that edition will also appear in copies of the Observer going to our regular readers. 

All told, we will draw from the work of more than 150 journalists. And that’s not all. Our wire services will continue to give us the best of the New York Times, the Washington Post, Bloomberg, the Wall Street Journal, the Los Angeles Times and the Associated Press, among others.

We have the same partnerships in place in Tampa for our coverage of this week’s Republican National Convention. We’ve also sent three Observer journalists there and will be picking up stories from the Tampa Bay Times.

Our stepped up coverage of the RNC begins today with stories on Page 1A and a special report on the Tampa convention in place of our Big Picture section.

We’re listening to you

All of these journalists need your perspective. Elections should center on the concerns of voters. What would you ask either candidate for president? Email your question to reporter Tim Funk, (please put “candidate question” in the subject line and specify which candidate to ask).

We’ve requested interviews with both President Barack Obama and Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney. If they agree to speak with us, we’ll ask a representative sample of your questions. If not, we’ll still publish the questions for you to see.

Here is a question submitted by Amy Sass of Matthews. 

“Mr. President, If the Republicans retain majority in the House after November, and the Democrats retain majority in the Senate, if you win re-election, what will you do differently over the next four years that will reduce the partisanship in both houses on the major issues facing us today – economy, debt, health care, etc. – so this country can really start moving forward?”

I’d say that’s a good question worth asking both candidates. Who has another?

Saturday, August 18, 2012

An inside look at city's conventions business

Most cities would gladly trade places with Charlotte as it prepares to host the 2012 Democratic National Convention.

As conventions go, Democrats and Republicans are in a class of their own. Probably nothing outside of the Olympics matches the spectacle, prestige and millions of dollars in federal funds.

A special report that begins today is not about that kind of convention. It’s about the more modest conventions that typically come to the Charlotte Convention Center.

You will learn what taxpayers invest to lure these conventions here. What our community gets in return. And what kinds of conventions we can expect in the future, with or without the DNC coming to town.

 Why are we telling you this now, with the city’s biggest-ever convention on deck? We think it is valuable context.

 The DNC is a great achievement for Charlotte. Still, we found little evidence that it opens a new era for mega-conventions in our city.

 Yes, we got this in part because we were ready. But more critically, it was our election year to be swing state.

 Putting politics aside, our convention business is a different story. And as you will read today, some of that story even surprised city leaders.

    For example, you and I pay a 1 percent tax to support tourism each time we eat in a restaurant in Mecklenburg County. Most of the money raised contributes to the $30 million annual cost of the convention center.

    What percentage of Charlotte’s hotel rooms would you guess that the convention center fills annually? No one we asked on City Council even came close. (Answer is in chart on 1A of Sunday's newspaper and here on

    Observer city government reporter Steve Harrison didn’t know either a little over a year ago as he broke stories about the questionable management practices of Tim Newman, the former director of the Charlotte Regional Visitors Authority. That reporting contributed to Newman’s demotion and eventual departure from the agency.

    By then, Harrison was digging deeper into the CRVA’s financial reports. He found records of payments to organizations that held conventions here: The American Legion, the American Bus Association, the Shriners, the National Rifle Association. It puzzled him.

   “When you get married, if you rent a facility, you pay them,” Harrison told me last week. “This was the opposite. (CRVA officials) were writing checks to get people to show up. I wondered, why is that? And is it worth it?”

    Harrison then did something rare, if not unprecedented, in Charlotte. He did the math on the convention business.

    What he found throws into question the whole philosophy of putting most of your tourism dollars into an exhibition hall.

    “If you want to become a bigger tourist destination, the road doesn’t necessarily run through a convention center,” Harrison said.

   On Tuesday, Part 2 will detail one reason why this philosophy went unquestioned for so long. For years, the CRVA turned out statistics that often made these conventions look more lucrative than they were.

   The CRVA now has a new chief, Tom Murray. Following discussions with the Observer, Murray put into place new formulas that provide more realistic economic estimates.

   Murray also told the Observer that he and his staff are committed to a standard of “ethics beyond reproach.”

  The new economic estimates may not be as impressive. But at least we now know better where we stand.

Every year, restaurant and hotel taxes in Mecklenburg raise more than $50 million to help grow tourism.

   If we want that investment to pay off, we first have to know what's really working.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

DNC apps for iPhone, iPad now available

You can now download iPhone and iPad versions of The Charlotte Observer's mobile app for the Democratic National Convention. Search for "DNC Charlotte Observer" in the Apple store.

An app for Android phones is available under the same search terms in the Android store.

All other smartphone users can get a web-based version by directing their browsers at

All of these apps are free.

We've loaded them with lots of useful information, including breaking news on the convention, restaurant reviews, delegate profiles, shopping directories and maps to help you find your way around the convention. Also check out dozens of photos depicting life in the Queen City.

You may find the app taking more time than usual to download. Know that we are reducing the app's size to help alleviate this issue and hope to have another version posted soon. If you have trouble downloading now, please use the web-based version, listed above, which contains all of the same content.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

How you can follow Charlotte's biggest story

Three weeks from now, the long-awaited 2012 Democratic National Convention rolls into Charlotte. And regardless of your politics, let me suggest that this could be the most significant convention you’ll ever follow.

That’s because long after the last balloon drop, you and I will still be here, living with the legacy of what the world witnessed over five days in September.

Charlotte is about to gain a global audience. The president, half of Congress and a multi-national army of 15,000 journalists will make it so.

That makes this a very big story locally. Dare I say the biggest news story in our city’s history? And yes, I was also here in 1989 for Hurricane Hugo.

For more than a year, The Charlotte Observer has planned how it will provide you comprehensive coverage of this historic moment – in print, online and over your phone.

We’ve built mobile apps, planned for nearly 50 pages of additional news coverage, designed a special convention section on, and forged partnerships with other major news organizations that will pay off with additional coverage for you.

In addition to reporting the news of the day, we’ll tell you what you personally need to know. If you want to be involved, you’ll learn how you can be. Rather steer clear? There will be advice for you, as well.

As politics goes, you may be more interested in what happens in Tampa the week before the DNC as the Republicans hold their convention. We’ll put you there, too.

The Observer is sending a team of journalists to the RNC, both to cover the political scene and to give you an idea of how that city is faring with its event. We will also bring you stories from that region’s premiere newspaper, The Tampa Bay Times (formerly the St. Petersburg Times) under a content-sharing arrangement. Similarly, that paper’s readers will see Observer coverage during the DNC.

Watch for more on our plans in the days to come. But for now, I’ll touch on three current features:

-- Beginning Tuesday, we’ll anchor convention developments on page 2A of the printed paper. And, of course, you can expect at least one convention-related story on 1A daily as the city prepares.

-- On, check out our special web edition of DNC coverage. There you will find all we’ve reported on so far, including full-color maps of road closings, profiles of delegates, the roster of speakers and a list of groups signed up to protest. You’ll also see our 2012 Visitor’s Guide to the city for conventioneers.

--You can carry in your pocket all that, plus breaking news of the convention, when you use our DNC 2012 mobile app. It’s free. Simply direct your smartphone to You’ll also find a customized version for Android phones (search in the Android app store for “Charlotte DNC 2012”) and, available soon, a customized version for iPhone and iPad (same search terms in the Apple store).

In three weeks, every major media organization in the world will report on the convention in Charlotte. But you can count on the Observer to also report on what it means for Charlotte, now and in the years to come.

Reach Rick Thames at, and Phone: 704-358-5001.

Friday, August 3, 2012

Check out our smarter Home & Garden section

For most people, the ideal home is more than simply a place to sleep. It’s a sanctuary.

Today, we bring you more help to keep it that way.

We’ve expanded and redesigned our Saturday Home & Garden section. Here, you will find special emphasis on how to make your address your favorite place to hang out.

Our advice will be practical. For instance, today’s cover story tells you how to transform that extra bedroom from a storage closet to real living space. Page 2 is home to DYI, featuring stories and a column for do-it-yourselfers.

Allen Norwood continues as our sage observer of real estate trends. And Nancy Brachey, Charlotte’s most trusted gardener, still dispenses her valued advice.

The section’s centerfold is a special package of great new content called Smarter Living. Every Saturday, you’ll find two full-color pages of tips and advice, drawn from the latest home improvement trends and innovations. And yes, we’ll also tell you where to buy the products featured.

Find Smarter Living online at, or click on Home & Garden under the Living Here tab.

Smarter Living is made possible by Electrolux, the Observer’s newest community underwriter. The Observer’s newsroom independently oversees the content. The underwriter supports the costs.

Underwriters have enabled us to grow your newspaper by eight pages of themed content a week. Other underwritten packages are Sci-Tech (Monday), Young Achievers (Tuesday) and Arts Alive (Thursday).

Electrolux moved its North American headquarters to Charlotte’s University City area two years ago and employs 700 people locally.

Jack Truong, president and CEO of Electrolux Major Appliances North America, called the underwriting decision synergistic.

“We are a consumer-driven company that is constantly innovating based on the changing behaviors of the consumers,” he said. “Charlotte is where the vast majority of our home appliances are designed. The changes to the Living section reflect the current trend of consumers’ experience in their homes and their changing lifestyle.”

Here’s to a synergy that helps you design the sanctuary of your dreams.