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August 29, 2012

Foreign Journalists See US Democracy in Action at Conventions

by Alex Villarreal

TAMPA, Fla. — Americans are not the only ones turning their attention to the U.S. presidential race this week. Reporters for foreign news outlets make up a substantial part of the 15,000 media members in Tampa, Florida, for the Republican Party's nominating convention. And a long-time U.S. State Department service is helping make sure they have the tools to work effectively.

Located in a nearby convention center, the Republican National Convention's media workspace is a sprawling maze of curtained-off enclosures - each assigned to a different media outlet.

One of those spaces belongs to the State Department's Foreign Press Centers.

​​Perched at the end of a long table in the heart of the centers' blue-partitioned workspace, reporter Yingzi Tan, is hard at work.

Tan writes for the English-language China Daily newspaper and is focusing her coverage on foreign policy issues and China-U.S. relations. This is her first time covering a U.S. political convention.

“It's quite a unique experience for me, because I feel very excited, because I've seen so many happy crowds, confident, and the scene is very lively inside the stadium. And it's very different from what we have in China, such kind of national convention, so it's very interesting for me to observe this American political event,” Tan said.

Susan Stevenson is the director of the Foreign Press Centers' two permanent locations in Washington and New York. She says the State Department has a long history of involvement in U.S. political conventions, helping to demystify the U.S. political process.

“What we do is we set up a filing space for the foreign journalists, and then we arrange for briefers from each party to come and talk about the party platform, as well as journalists to talk about what to look for in covering a convention, knowing that for many of these foreign journalists this will be their first time covering a convention and they need to know a little bit better how the U.S. political process works,” Stevenson said.

Stevenson says the effort is attracting journalists from around the world, including Asia, Europe, South America and Africa. She says most of the visitors are journalists like Tan, who are often new to the United States and trying to make sense of the American system.

“We did not come in 2004, and we got a lot of flak from the journalists about it, because if we are not here it's very hard for them to get access to anybody from the party platform or inside the party operation, because obviously their readers are not people who can vote,” Stevenson said.

​​Thomas Gorgoissian writes for the Egyptian daily Al-Tahrir newspaper, named after Tahrir Square, the center of the country's 2011 revolution. He says Egypt and other countries are interested in the U.S. political process because American policies directly affect them.

“They want to know what's going on in this convention and later after this they will be interested about the debates and then the election process in order to know if Obama is going to lose or Romney is going to win or Obama is going to continue -- what kind of America we are going to have or the world is going to have accordingly. Because as we know and you know and I know and everybody knows, if America sneezes the whole world can catch cold,” Gorgoissian said.

So far, the operation at the Republican convention has attracted nearly 80 journalists a day. The centers will also set up in Charlotte, North Carolina, next week when Democrats gather for their national convention.