Campaign Road Warriors

Network news reporters are using new technologies to cover the 2012 elections more comprehensively

Why This Matters

Trained to Multitask

If new technologies are allowing the networks to provide much more news coverage, they are also putting enormous pressure on the reporters who must quickly supply massive amounts of content via small camcorders, smartphones, laptops, audio recorders and other devices.

“The pressure to be fast increases with every new piece of technology,” admits Jamie Novogrod, a political embed with NBC News who covers the Michele Bachmann campaign.

Not surprisingly, networks put their multitasking field reporters through an extensive training and vetting process. CBS News reporter Sarah Huisenga, for example, notes that she had been a producer at 48 Hours, where she gained extensive experience crafting stories and using cameras.

Even so, Huisenga and other reporters for CBS, and the National Journal staffers they are tied in with, were put through an extensive two-week training period on equipment, work flows, editorial standards and the editorial needs of both CBS and the National Journal.

At NBC, Novogrod notes that potential candidates for their field position went through a five-week vetting period, where reporters were asked to carry out specific assignments, such as writing a story or shooting footage under tight deadlines. They were also carefully evaluated for their character and news judgment.

Once the potential reporter list was whittled down to eight, they were then put through an intensive twoweek boot camp that focused on both equipment and editorial standards.

“We didn’t just want to equip some interns with cameras,” says Chuck Todd, NBC News political director and chief White House correspondent. Todd stresses that the network wanted journalists who understood the NBC system and who had the judgment and character needed to handle the speed and pressure of multiplatform delivery.

“Judgment and character matter very much in this day and age,” Todd says. —GW

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As the Republican candidates
travel around the country in
pursuit of the 2012 presidential
nomination, they are being followed by a
new class of multitasking reporters who
are transforming election coverage, each
with their weighty bundle of highly specialized
tech equipment.

On the campaign trail with Michele
Bachmann, CBS News reporter Sarah Huisenga
and NBC News political embed Jamie
Novogrod are almost invariably working
by themselves, without a producer,
cameraman or satellite truck, shooting the
event on their small Sony HVR-Z5 cameras.

Novogrod, for example,
tries to get to events early to
get a good spot in the press
area. He will then spend the
following 30 to 40 minutes
setting up his Sony camera
and checking the connection
for his LiveU backpack that
will send live video via cellular
networks back to NBC’s
operations in New York City and Washington, D.C.

After everything is set up, Novogrod will move out into the crowd, interviewing
event organizers or attendees, taking notes with an old-fashioned pen and notebook
but also videotaping them with his iPhone for stories or Web items. He also
snaps photos using Instagram, a photo-sharing application that allows users to post
material to social media sites.

Then, once the event starts, Novogrod operates his camera, making sure it remains
properly fixed on Bachmann, who likes to move around the stage, meanwhile
giving his thumbs a good workout, typing notes on his Blackberry to record
key aspects of the speech and specific times for notable quotes.

Some of this goes out live to the Web—about 150 of the nearly 400 events
covered by NBC embeds have been streamed live—or is cut into stories that make
their way onto broadcast or cable TV news shows, the Internet, mobile offerings
and social media.

Tweets, posts to social media, news articles for the Web and Weblogs can also be
a big part of the day’s work for multimedia news correspondents.

All this marks a major change from past network coverage of elections. As recently
as the 2008 campaign, news desks had to deploy satellite trucks and several people to
cover events, which meant they were forced to pick and choose which events would
most likely generate significant news.

This time around, NBC has deployed
eight reporters like Novogrod. CBS has
forged an alliance with the National Journal
to put three CBS reporters, including
Huisenga, and three National Journal reporters
in the field, making it possible for
them to cover most campaign events.

“It’s an amazing leap forward from even
four years ago,” notes Chuck Todd, NBC
News political director and chief White
House correspondent, who argues that
the embeds give them a major competitive
advantage. “It gives us the ability
to do so much more live coverage than
we’ve ever done before.”

On the technology side, much of the
reporting is being made possible by improved
connectivity and miniaturization
of equipment, which has allowed journalists
to operate almost like mobile production
trucks, carrying everything they need
to produce content for broadcast TV, the
Web, mobile and social media platforms.

CBS’ Huisenga, for example, typically carries a small Sony HVR-Z5 HD camera,
a MacBook Pro laptop equipped with Final Cut Pro editing software, a Wi-Fi card
to FTP video to CBS over 4G or 3G networks, a Blackberry from CBS, her own
Droid smartphone, a Flip Video camera, an audio recorder, shotgun and wireless
mikes, a camera light and lots of cables.

Operating all this equipment and producing so much material for so many different
platforms has been a daunting challenge, both Huisenga and Novogrod admit.

“If something big happens, the video needs to get in right now, and both CBS
and the National Journal have big Websites, so they will want a story up right away,”
says Huisenga, who also feeds content to various CBS News programs, radio, mobile
and social media sites.

While they may seem like lone guns on the campaign trail,
the connectivity that allows this material to make its way back into network
bureaus and production hubs also means that the field reporters are hardly
one-man or one-woman bands.

Both Huisenga and Novogrod stress that a key element of
their coverage is a tight communication with their bosses in New
York and Washington D.C.

As Novogrod shoots an event, there is often a logger in Washington,
who is also watching the material, noting key parts of the stream where
Bachmann had notable quotes or statements. Once the event is over, Novogrod may
also request a transcript of direct quotes from those areas for his reporting.

"This tag-team approach is incredibly helpful," he notes.
"Having another set of eyes is huge. On the days when I have to cover an event
without the LiveU [backpack sending back video to New
York and Washington]
and I have to report it on my own, it makes a big difference because I don't
have another set of eyes logging the video. Then, I'll have to go back and clip
and FTP [the video] myself, which can add an hour or two to the workload."

Correspondents and reporters at NBC news also find material
extremely helpful. NBC's Todd notes that he can watch the live feeds when he's not
out on the road and that he can draw on this video for stories.

"It gives you an instant diversity of voices that you can
use immediately and has really allowed our stuff to stand out," he says.

As candidates race to endless events, keeping up with them
also means long hours with few days off.

"The hours can be pretty brutal and you're never really
off," Novogrod says. "If I am off, it is usually a travel day to another event.
But that hasn't bothered me because it's really exciting. Part of the mission
is to cover everything the candidates do and to do that you have to be there.
That was part of the reason why we were deployed so early.

"When I arrived in late July, it was mostly just the local
press that was covering [Bachmann] and I was there to see her evolve," he continues.
"I saw her gather all this incredible momentum in August. I was at this event
just before she won the straw poll in Iowa that was
just electric and I remember thinking then she could win the straw poll.

"And then lately I've seen her slip in the polls," he adds.
"But by being there all along, I've been able to appreciate that and see how her message as
evolved and changed. It is really cool to be there and see how this has

The extensive coverage made possible by newer technologies
has also allowed Novogrod and Huisenga to much better understand her supporters
and get a better sense of how the Tea Party grew out of older political traditions.

Novogrod, for example, remembers meeting a Ron Paul
supporter who ran for congress in the early 1980s. "He calls himself the
original member of the Tea Party," he notes. "He gave me a pamphlet [from the
early 1980s] that had all the iconography of the modern Tea Party. You realize
there were these sentiments long before the Tea Party and being out there the
way we are really helps you understand that."

"By spending a lot of time in Iowa-which is where I am
from-I've really gotten to know the political scene and who some of the big
players are and the people around the candidate," says Huisenga. "Being there
day in and day out, you notice immediately when things are shifting, when there
is a change of strategy and the reasons why they are doing that."

That constant coverage can mean some very long days on the
road. "There are many days when I will be on the road five or six hours a day,"
covering several events, Huisenga notes.

Novogrod recalls driving down to Miami
late one night after attending a number of Bachmann events during a long day in
Central Florida. "I had to file all my video so I'm driving
through the Everglades, through what they call Alligator
Alley while my laptop is uploading the material [with the LiveU backpack],"
Novogrod says. "I think I sent five clips during that four hour drive" that
were used by MSNBC and their other platforms.

"The bottom line is that [the new technology] means we can
do more and in some cases do more while we are already doing something else,"
he notes.

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