Fox's 'Strategy Room' at the center of it all

Fox News' Jay Wallace says convention webcast a success

ST. PAUL, Minn. -- In TV news, you never get to see microphone switches. But in "The Strategy Room," it's a part of the charm.

In the center of Fox News Channel's newsroom-in-a-tent across from the Republican National Convention, there was another lighter, more nimble news channel that was being produced for the Web alongside the likes of "The Fox Report" and "Special Report."

We're talking "The Strategy Room," which featured many of the same top talent of Fox News as well as a constant stream of guests and behind-the-scenes action in the "Fox Experience" setup at the RNC. But this program, mostly 24/7 with a few exceptions since the conventions began two weeks ago, wasn't on cable. It's for the Web.

It's been quite the success for Fox News, said Jay Wallace, vp news editorial product at the Fox News Channel. There have been 3 million streams for "The Strategy Room" since it went live just before the Democratic National Convention. That's in addition to thousands of e-mails -- 50,000 last Thursday alone -- sent to the producers and correspondents.

On Thursday, correspondent Brian Wilson segued from an interview in the network's Web-studio-in-the-round inside the "Fox Experience" tent to a round of interviews with GOP delegates and guests who were waiting outside.

Wilson gets up but the camera follows in a scene repeated dozens of times each day on cable news but rarely seen.

"Bear with me while I switch microphones," Wilson said to the camera. "I'll be with you in a half of second in 'The Strategy Room.'"

That kind of quirky appeal was in evidence in "The Strategy Room," whether it was Wilson or anchor Shepard Smith or Greta van Susteren or producer/correspondent Griff Jenkins in front of the camera. And since the set was front and center on Fox's main set in St. Paul, "The Strategy Room" really was in the middle of the action.

"We wanted it to be more of a centerpiece," Wallace said.

"The Strategy Room" began as an experiment during the primaries, giving Fox News more of a younger-skewing audience and providing more coverage than it could do on the news channel, and with many fewer commercials. But Fox News took it to the next level for the political conventions, with two weeks of almost continuous coverage.

What it's done, said Wallace, is allow the anchors and correspondents to do a show that is has good video and audio yet is much looser.

"The person who took it to the next level was Shep, not surprisingly," Wallace said. Smith anchored hours of coverage online in addition to his TV duties, having fun with the concept. One feature was a "Mystery Science Theater 3000"-style take with shadowy guests on the major political speeches. It's the kind of thing that wouldn't play well on TV but works on the Web.

"The cool thing, it's TV but it's more like radio with pictures," Jenkins said. "It's unpredictable and fun, which is what you can do on the Web that you can't do on broadcast or cable TV."

For Jenkins, who is married to a Pittsburgh Steelers fan, the freedom allowed him to spend more time on an interview with former Steelers great Lynn Swann. On TV, he said, it would run about two minutes. On the Web, it lasted 15 minutes.

That TV verite was in evidence Thursday night, when a little after 6 p.m. ET Wilson was told on camera by Mike Straka, the vp/editorial producer for video operations at FoxNews.com, that the plug was being pulled. It's been a good run, Straka said, but "The Strategy Room" would go off the air whenever Wilson said so.

While this constant Web stream was fun, right now there's only a few cases where it can be done. The network is looking at rolling it out again for the presidential debates and other big news events.
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