John Kerry and John Edwards aren't the only ones feeling good about the primaries. ABC News is on a joyride of sorts, thanks to three buses that let reporters shoot, edit, and transmit from the road.
"It's like having a mobile bureau," says David Reiter, ABC News special events senior producer. "We can have four workspaces in one bus with phones, good Internet access, and a place to broadcast live from and feed video to New York."
In fact, he says, the buses are so useful they could be used for other events. The nature of news coverage from the road is fast and furious. Typically, reporters and producers have to leave the scene of a story to edit and feed it back to network ops. The buses, with their complement of two Avid DVXpress nonlinear editing systems, Betacam and DV tape decks, and satellite transmission gear, let them stay with the story. The result? Stronger reporting and better storytelling.
"It allows the process to be more about news coverage," adds Reiter. "For a big-trial story, we would rent an RV. But with something like this, we could put a bus outside the trial." This approach would also be helpful in the event of natural disasters, such as wildfires in California.
An added bonus: The buses offer areas for standing and sitting. The bathroom has been converted to a radio booth, and soundproofing isolates the sound of the generator on board. "When we do reports from inside the bus, it's much quieter than it would have been," says Bob Schles, manager of electronic newsgathering remote operations.
A mini-control room onboard has 10 monitors, a production switcher, and audio mixer. The DV players were used in Iraq, but the two cameras, Sony PV-170s, are upgrades. A small lipstick camera captures high-wide shots of any interviews done on the bus.
The buses' advantages, however, extend beyond its walls. Hubs set up with satellite provider PanAmSat give each bus eight telephone extensions out of New York, allowing quick four-digit access to ABC headquarters.
The bus also makes life easier for the candidates. They don't find the studio; the studio finds them. Plus, the bus lets reporters and producers speak with people in the communities. Freed from endless plane travel, reporters can discuss issues with ordinary voters.
"It's a much more grassroots way of covering the election," says Reiter.
Indeed, the former rock-'n'-roll tour buses will continue their Election 2004 trek through April. They'll be back this summer to cover the conventions and play their final date at the main event in November.