After more than 30 years covering politics for NBC News, Phil Alongi left the network and quickly found himself on the other side of the game. Speaking with CNN Friday, Alongi was wrapping up in Tampa, Florida, having just produced the 2012 Republican National Convention.
Alongi says his role as executive producer of the RNC was in the works for a long time. He was first approached for the position shortly after he left NBC in February of 2009.
He told CNN the convention planners expressed admiration for his work at NBC, where he had been covering political conventions since 1980, the year CNN was founded.
Conventions in the past were produced by individuals with experience in entertainment and special events, but Alongi says it was a change of pace to hire someone with a news background.
Yet, he approached the convention as if he was still a member of the press, “I wanted to make this an experience for all media platforms, because I believe that our role as journalists is giving the public the information they need to make a choice,” he told CNN.
His hiring by the RNC speaks to a change in the political landscape – one where we no longer find out about candidates solely from TV news. Many voters look to blogs, apps, streaming video, Twitter and many other media platforms to get to know a candidate and what he or she stands for.
Alongi was not involved in the content of the speeches or the political messaging of the convention. However, he was in charge of making sure delegates and media on the ground, as well as viewers at home, got a good show.
The aspect of the convention Alongi seems most proud of is the 13 screen back drop for the podium. The set allowed him to personalize the look of the stage for each speaker without physically moving anything.
When Jeb Bush made his speech Thursday night, Alongi and his team anticipated the former Florida Governor would talk about education – so they prepared elements that complimented his subject. Behind Bush stretched giant ruled notebook paper as he said “lets talk a little about our kids, and education.”
The RNC also played a 10 minute “Introduction” to Mitt Romney that played across the 13 different screens. Different aspects of the short film were highlighted in the different sizes and shapes of screens surrounding the podium.
Although some pundits have complained that the conventions are over-hyped and drawn out, Alongi told CNN he thinks they play an essential role. Alongi says he loves that for four days all the attention is on the candidates, and it’s not up to journalists to decide whether it’s worthwhile.
For Alongi the real challenge may have been that the stars of his show didn’t have the same draw. Sarah Palin drew 37.2 million viewers the night of her speech at the 2008 RNC, whereas Paul Ryan’s speech Wednesday drew 21.9 million. And John McCain’s acceptance of the Republican nomination in 2008 pulled 38.9 million viewers, while Romney’s speech Thursday got 25.3 million.
But, regardless of ratings, Alongi strived to create something that put the candidate, and his ideas, center stage.
He told CNN, “If you learn something about the candidates and what they stand for, you’ve learned something when you go to the voting booth and push the lever. It’s a chance for people to learn what these guys really stand for.”