The New Technology Of Campaign CoverageSocial media, field technologies are enabling expanded original reporting at networks 10/03/2011 12:01:00 AM Eastern
The 2012 Elections may or may not produce
those sweeping changes politicians love to promise,
but there is little doubt that technology is
already bringing far-reaching shifts to the way the campaigns
First and foremost, this will be the first presidential election
where tablets, social media, apps and smart phones
are firmly a part of the mainstream, with Nielsen
predicting that half of all American adults are
expected to have a smart phone by the end of
the year, and Forrester projecting that U.S. tablet
users will pass the 50 million mark in 2012.
“We feel 2012 will be the social networktablet
elections,” notes Lou Ferrara, VP and
managing editor for interactive and social media
at the Associated Press.
That focus on social media has already been
seen in some of the debates, most notably the
CNN/Tea Party Republican Debate, which featured
questions delivered from social media
sites; that will only expand over the next year.
A slew of journalists are already posting comments
to social media sites, NBC is partnering
with Facebook for a Republican debate prior to
the New Hampshire primary early next year,
and all the major networks are looking to include
analysis and social media activity in their
During the debate, the #cnnteaparty hashtag
became the No. 1 trending topic globally and
in the U.S., notes Sam Feist, Washington, D.C.,
bureau chief and senior vice president at CNN.
“It drove people to find the debate and watch
it,” which boosted ratings, he adds. Some 3.6
million viewers watched the event, and there
were about 455,000 live streams at CNN.com
during the debate, which is a bigger number
than some cable TV news shows draw on a
While social media and mobile platforms
are attracting much of the chatter for the 2012
coverage, other older, less obvious technology
trends are likely to have a huge impact.
The major networks are entering into 2012 coverage
with much better infrastructures and capabilities to dramatically
expand their election coverage and to deliver
more content to many more devices. They’ve made major
upgrades in the last decade to digitize their operations,
move to file-based workflows and upgrade to their HD
“The backend isn’t as sexy to talk about, and most
people aren’t interested in how it works, but it’s the foundation
for the improvements and better coverage we’re
offering,” notes Vivian Schiller, chief digital officer at NBC
One example of the improved coverage made possible
by the transformation of network news operations is the
growing use of single-person crews equipped with lightweight
cameras, laptop editing systems and backpacks
or other systems to send back live video, text blogs and
tweets from the field.
NBC, for example, has embedded eight
journalists with candidates and in early primary
states and equipped them with light Sony HVR-Z5U
cameras, laptops with editing software and LiveU backpacks,
says Jeffrey Coneys, director of NCT/satellite operations
“It allows us to get more and more content out of places
where we wouldn’t have been able to send a satellite crew
and truck to cover,” he explains.
NBC has been using the LiveU backpacks to send back
video over cellular networks since 2009, but 2012 will represent
by far the network’s biggest use of the technology.
“To me, the fact that we have eight embeds is one of the
most exciting things we’re doing,” Schiller adds. “It is a
clear point of differentiation and gives us amazing resources
for reporting and the distribution of content with them
reporting on all the social media and our other platforms.”
CBS, meanwhile, has cut a deal with the National Journal
to put three Journal reporters and three CBS journalists in
the field equipped with the lightweight cameras, laptops
and 4G air cards for sending
video back from the field as
they follow candidates and
cover early primary states.
Besides the one-person
crews, CBS News has also
embarked on a major initiative
to work more closely
with CBS Radio and other
divisions to expand their
“One of our biggest efforts is original reporting,”
notes Tim Gaughan, CBS News
director of digital newsgathering and senior
producer of special events, who adds that
their one-person crews have already allowed
them to beef up their political reporting on
The Early Show.
ABC did not provide an executive to be
interviewed for this story.
CNN has also moved aggressively to ramp
up its field coverage with smaller crews
equipped with lighter, more mobile equipment
that can send back video over cellular
networks with LiveU backpacks, Feist adds.
An even more graphic example of how
larger upgrades are transforming newsgathering
and 2012 election coverage can be
found at AP.
The news organization will start offering
entertainment news in HD on Nov. 11, followed
by sports in January 2012, and its
main breaking news service will go HD by
the following June, in time for the 2012 London
Olympics in July and the U.S. presidential
elections in November.
As part of that effort, AP is also upgrading
equipment and its infrastructure to significantly expand its video output. AP photographers are now
using Canon 5D cameras that shoot HD video, and the
service is equipping many text reporters and others with
lightweight Panasonic cameras, laptop editing systems and
LiveU backpacks to send back video from the field.
Combined with their more traditional video crews,
these one-person crews will allow AP to significantly expand
its election coverage for on-air and digital platforms,
notes Kevin Roach, VP and director of U.S. broadcast
news at AP’s Broadcast News Center.
“This is a really extraordinary period of time,” Roach
says, “with some amazing technology that is actually affordable,
which is allowing us and others to rapidly dive
into the digital world and improve our coverage.”
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