Nothing Plain About ABC's New Buses

Inspired by Iraq war, mobile studios will cover Election '04

The Boys on the Bus at ABC are getting some really neat buses. ABC News' election coverage will get a lift from three new high-tech buses that will hit the campaign trail in December, the network said last week.

The news organization is outfitting the mobile TV studios with cameras, interview facilities, a radio booth, wireless Internet connections and editing rooms.

"Viewers will get access to stories they wouldn't see or in a more timely fashion," ABC News President David Westin said last week at a press conference previewing the net's election plans.

Anchor Peter Jennings seemed particularly juiced about the new wheels. "Buses are a magnet. They are like a village green," he said. "They enhance our ability to cover [stories] and attract people in the community." (When Timothy Crouse wrote The Boys on the Bus, his book about covering the 1972 presidential race with other reporters , the press bus was more like a drunken fraternity house.)

The ABC buses will travel in tandem with an SUV carrying satellite and communications equipment. During the Iraq war, NBC News attracted much attention for its high-tech "Bloommobile," which carried correspondent David Bloom across the Iraqi desert and allowed real-time reporting from anywhere.

Westin learned a lot from the new technology tested during the war. He emphasized, though, that, unlike Bloom's vehicle, the buses won't get star treatment.

He said ABC's efforts, dubbed ABC Vote 2004, will concentrate on both the candidates and the nation's voters. "Every election is a two-way street between the candidates and the nation, and we want to put as much emphasis on the nation."

Jennings will lead ABC's election coverage, with former Clinton adviser and ABC Sunday-morning host George Stephanopoulos serving as lead political analyst. Political director Mark Halperin will oversee planning and content, and more than 10 ABC News correspondents will be assigned to candidates and to covering election issues.

ABC will also rely on 15 "off-air reporters," young journalists armed with digital video cameras who will travel with a candidate and contribute to ABC's TV, radio and online properties. (They are already out on the campaign trail.) ABC has been using such reporters since the 1988 election; in fact, Halperin was himself an "off-air" in 1992, traveling with President Bill Clinton.

Other aspects of ABC's coverage include two new educational partnerships. ABC will contribute information on the election to the Weekly Reader, a magazine for elementary school children. Reporters will appear on Channel One, a daily news show for high school students, and materials from Channel One will run on ABC Radio, and its streaming-video service.