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The big game to compete with big news

By LUCY MORGAN and SHELBY OPPEL

© St. Petersburg Times, published November 15, 2000


TALLAHASSEE -- Some very important people are finding out what is really important in Florida.

Hundreds of television and newspaper reporters camped outside the Capitol while the world waits to see who will become the next president of the United States are being tossed out of their hotel rooms this week as football fans begin arriving in town.

On Saturday, at about the time the state might be letting everyone know the official results of a very close election, the football fans will begin moving toward Doak Campbell Stadium for the 8 p.m. game between Florida State University and the University of Florida.

The game could determine who plays for the national championship.

The arrival of sports fans and sports reporters in a town with about 5,000 hotel rooms has created a serious problem. Hotels have been full all week with some reporters already staying in south Georgia or Perry, a town about 40 miles south of Tallahassee.

"We don't know where we are staying," said CBS producer Mary Hager. "We got kicked out of our hotel today and we're in big trouble."

Some reporters will be staying in private homes offered by Tallahassee residents who offered their spare rooms. The city's convention and tourist bureau is coordinating the room offers to help reporters.

Some news crews are staying in Bainbridge and Thomasville, Ga. -- more than an hour away from the state Capitol, where they converge during the day.

And ABC is even looking at hotel rooms that cost only $45 a night.

Asked if they have ever stayed in such cheap hotel rooms, ABC's Linda Douglass said "we've stayed in cars on the highway; it's all part of the job."

One ABC crew arrived Sunday night from Chicago. Reporter Jim Williams said the network has about 150 people on the ground in Florida this week.

To find the 45 hotel rooms they need, the network went to Bainbridge, Williams said.

"Finding the rooms wasn't the problem," said Frieda Morris, Atlanta bureau chief for NBC. "Keeping them is a day-by-day process. We'll see how it goes the closer we get to the game."

The news media camp that has ringed the Capitol with satellite trucks and strung cords and cameras all over the place is the biggest group to populate Florida, says Pat Roberts, executive director of the Florida Association of Broadcasters.

"We have more trucks and more media than showed up in Tampa when the queen visited and more than came to watch Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf come home from the Persian Gulf," Roberts said.

And the nation really does care, Roberts noted. Television news ratings over last weekend were higher than those captured by the Persian Gulf War or the death of England's Princess Diana, he said.

"We've been nonstop from 4 a.m. to midnight since last Wednesday," said Mike Vasilinda, bureau chief for Capitol News Service. "We're working for television stations in Korea, Japan, Switzerland and Mexico."

The presence of so many reporters in Tallahassee is presenting another problem, Roberts said.

"A lot of them want tickets to the game," he said. "FSU is having to set up a different system to determine who gets press credentials.

"There are a lot of press credentials in this town this week."

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