The Digital Journalist
Hasta la Vista
October 2003

by Jessica Brandi Lifland

The recall has been described as a three-ring circus. My experience so far had been anything but, mostly covering candidates as they made a quick appearance here and there in the Bay Area. We were kept at a distance. Little opportunity existed to get anything beyond expressions at the podium. Usher them in, speech, usher them out and into the car. Away they go.

For the gubernatorial debate in Sacramento, I hung around outside watching the national media descend on the Cal State Sacramento campus. Although the debate was scheduled for 6pm, by 2:30 pm, Satellite trucks lined the parking lot. Camera crews were laying cable from the trucks to the outside press area, a sectioned off plot of grass outside the student union. There, crews were setting up tents and lights. Correspondents were making notes and checking their make-up. At least 10 reporters dressed in black stood between the lawn and me, each in a self-important stance, talking into their cell phones. I watched the students who were watching the show develop on the lawn. I wondered what they made of all this.

The photographers, reporters and crewmembers of the various stations, agencies and newspapers greeted each other and talked about the last time they saw each other - at some other news event, which called for the national media crews to assemble. I saw some familiar faces too and went and got some frozen yogurt from the Student Union.

The extras are ready

The 'extras' are ready

Photo by Jessica Brandi Lifland/Polaris
A group of people in white "Join Arnold" tee shirts began to assemble and tape posters on wooden spikes. Across the sidewalk two people appeared with "Labor against the Recall" signs. Photographers and camera people began to wander into the gap in the middle.

The "Join Arnold" crowd began chanting. A group against the recall with neon colored posters saying as much assembled by the Labor people, facing the "Join Arnold" crowd. The police assembled on their bikes only yards away. The media crowded in the middle. Everyone was in place to assume their roles be it "protester," "media person," "police." No lead candidates were around, but the show had begun.

The next hour or so was a blur as I did my thing. I moved back and forth from the center area where I mostly used my wide angle, just letting the action unfold, then I would go behind the protestors, I moved back, to the outskirts of the action to try to give myself some mental distance. I put my long lens on again and worked from there. Then I would move back in.

The scene heated up as the groups chanted back and forth but it did not erupt into violence. I heard one photographer say to another that he wondered if the yelling would escalate into a fight. The other one said that was what he was waiting for. There were signs and stickers and costumes and yelling, all in warm late afternoon light.

Arnold, under glass

Arnold, under glass

Photo by Jessica Brandi Lifland/Polaris

Police held back crews and fans as the candidates' cars arrived and slid into a private entrance area. Arnold did not even roll down his window; he only waved through the glass. I focused with my 80-200 and fired off two frames. Someone jumped in front of my lens. I looked at my LCD panel. There was one frame of Arnold and one of the back of someone. The frame of Arnold had some glare from the sun on his window. It was in focus but it wasn't great. That was my contact with the candidates for the evening.

Long after the majority of media headed in to the pressroom for the debates, I looked up from my lens and realized the crowd had thinned. It was getting dark. The newscasters were preparing for their post debate live shots.

After the debate, I waited to see if the excitement would pick up again but it didn't. The candidates slipped out quietly and the protesters headed home. I watched as the TV crews began tearing down the circus tents to pack up and head to the next event, the next day, the next place.

© Jessica Brandi Lifland