By Sandy K. Johnson

If either Philadelphia or Cleveland will be your first rodeo as a political convention reporter, it can be an overwhelming experience. Tens of thousands of journalists, elected officials, political hacks, delegates, vendors and hangers-on throng the convention cities.

The National Press Foundation brought together three reporters who were newbies in 2012 to offer their guidance and lessons learned: Christina Wilkie of The Huffington Post, Ginger Gibson of Reuters and Tracie Mauriello of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

Preparation. From comfortable shoes to well-stocked backpacks (iPhone, extra batteries, Wi-Fi booster, digital recorder, energy bars, water, notebooks and pens, business cards), reporters stressed to be prepared for long waits and surprises. Reporters should do a lot of advance reporting and write b-matter for stories before the convention begins. Make a coverage plan and talk it over with your editor – but be flexible enough to ditch the plan if something more interesting comes up.

Events. You can’t cover all the events on the convention calendar, so choose carefully. Or don’t cover events at all and instead search out stories that the other 10,000 reporters won’t – skip being part of the herd. “Look for what the TV cameras and embedded reporters miss, because they can’t mingle,” said Wilkie. Gibson suggested interviewing the delegates, who are “deeply involved in the politics and operation of their own states. They can provide a lot of insight.”

Story Ideas. Reporters offered an abundance of suggestions. Go to the delegate breakfasts. Schmooze the state elected officials who you’ll need in the fall campaign. Pay attention to the party platforms. Look for interesting angles in the convention city that others won’t write. Troll social media for what’s resonating with people. Look for that distinctive detail that will set your story apart from the firehose of stories written from the convention each day. Try to write for the audience watching from home as the conventions unfold. And finally, follow the money as lobbyists and corporations throw fancy fundraising parties for politicians.

Beyond Words. Look for interesting or amusing photos. Shoot short videos. Post overheard quotes. Look for ways to humanize the convention for people back home.

For first-time convention goers, Mauriello offered a guide of sorts with the blog she wrote in 2012 for the National Press Foundation. It is chock-full of good advice.