MUSINGS FROM THE CAMPAIGN TRAILLOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA September 21,1996
After just sleeping around the clock, following the first couple of weeks of campaign with Clinton, I thought you all might enjoy a look behind the scenes.
The campaign kicked off before the traditional start, which normally doesn't start till after labor day, with a four day train trip through West Virginia, Ohio, Indiana, Michigan, and finally into Chicago for the convention.
The Clinton advance people knocked themselves out coming up with colorful, photogenic stops. The expanded pool, which consists of the four wires, the three newsmagazines, The New York Times , Washington Post and a net crew traveled in a car ten cars ahead of the Presidential car. The pool was seated comfortably upstairs in the two decker, with a filing area below. The rest of the press, which amounted to over 200 people rode in cars further ahead.
At each stop, which came at approximately three hour intervals, the pool would jump from their car, and race back along the rocky road bed the 1/4 mile to be in position for the emergence of the President. Fortunately, those of us who had been on the death march had been toughened up by then, so we managed the sprint with no problems.
The Clinton people had placed main camera stands and cut stands in good positions, but also seemed to be much more relaxed than normal about letting us roam to find our own positions . . . there is nothing like a campaign to help get access.
Talking about access, Time's Diana Walker was granted an exclusive that ran for the duration of the train trip and into the convention in Chicago. This followed Newsweek's David Hume Kennerly's three week long crack at the President. We call those exclusives "closet jobs." To the White House's credit, they pretty much lived up to their agreements as far as letting David and Diana in to do behind the scenes. The problem for Diana was that for most of the train trip she discovered that most of the President's time was taken up doing public events, and she was beginning to dismay about finding some "real moments" for her black and white reportage. She kept hoping that by the time we got to Chicago, there would be some drama in the Presidential suite . . . well, was there ever!
On Clinton's big day, the Dick Morris story hit, and as you might imagine, all the White House phones suddenly stopped answering.
After a day of stewing in her room,the White House finally remembered her and allowed her to do exclusive backstage photographs that wound up as a wonderful spread in the magazine (note -- these photographs won first place at the White House News Photographers' competition the following March)
From Chicago it was off to Cape Girardeau. Mo. for the start of a two day bus tour through Missouri, southern Illinois. Kentucky and Tennessee. The train trip by comparison had been real luxury (the food that was served by Amtrack was terrific . . including some of the best catfish I have ever eaten . . it was like being an ocean liner, everytime we got back on the train there was more food), however the bus was pretty grim. The pool bus was old, creaky, dirty, with ever fouler smells coming from the rest room. The air conditioner however did work. All too well. After running up and down the roads in ninety degree heat we returned to what felt like a meat locker, where we would shiver to our next stop. Worse, there was no food for the pool, and the first night we arrived at our hotel in Paducah, Ky at midnight, starved.
The bus tour concluded in Little Rock last weekend, after a total of 32 speeches over ten states since we left Washington a week earlier.
The fascinating thing to me was the emergence of digital for the still photographers. Not only did the wires rely on digital for all their coverage, but the New York Times and the Washington Post had switched over from film as well.
During the train and bus tours, these photographers were transmitting their photos from their power books minutes after taking the images, using cell phones.
Watching them, I noticed how the use of the digital cameras was changing the way they worked. With the ability to transmit almost immediately, there seemed to be a premium on getting their photos out. As a result, at most events, they would tend to concentrate their shooting into the first minutes, then spend the rest of the event transmitting.
I asked Paul Hosfros of the New York Times about this, and he admitted that this process was affecting the way he was working, but felt that whatever he was loosing in coverage he was more than making up for by being competitive with the wires in the editorial process.
Frank Johnson of the Washington Post was burdened with problems with his power book, and his attempts at transmission became agony for him.
Ruth Fremson of AP is one of three Washington-based photographers for the wire who is now using digital exclusively for her coverage. Like her colleagues, Doug Mills and Greg Gibson she uses a pair of Nikon MC2000es, with a 5300c power book.
"I was pleasantly surprised when I switched to digital," she told me. "At first I was very afraid of it, because it was so foreign, but I soon discovered that it was putting me much more in control of the editorial process. In working, it was like going back to single shot cameras, instead of shooting all the time at 8 frames per second. I think you get sloppy with the motor, and because of the lag time with digital, you really have to focus on the moment."
"The trick to using digital on the road is you have to stay ahead with clearing your files, and toning of the image is as important as making a good print ever was in the dark room."
"It's really cool...it's a whole new world ".