It's been a few weeks since our whirlwind of reporting from the political conventions, which has given me a bit of a chance to reflect on how it all went down.
From celebrity-studded parties, to the tear gassing of protesters, to lots and lots of young voters, mobile reporting using new technologies was instrumental to our coverage. During the conventions, I was hoping that our audience would come to chooseorlose.com and feel a sense of excitement from the ground through dynamic, up-to-the minute coverage. I think that between the Twitter feed, live mobile-to-web Flixwagon reports and blogs that took over our site during the conventions, we accomplished that.
RNC Street Teamers with their Twitter feed
I don't think that any of the aforementioned reporting methods would have stood particularly well on its own. None of them provide a lot of depth, but taken as a package, the audience can get a pretty well-rounded picture of what's going on and become directly engaged in following a story as it unfolds, rather than just having it all tied up with a pretty bow, after the fact. During the conventions, our "tweets" sent from reporters' mobile phones provided teasers to what they would be covering ("Just interviewed a 19 year-old from Chicago who won't be voting for the Illinois Senator this year") or just immediate observations from the ground ("Hillary appears at roll call and moves to skip procedure and nominate Obama! Place going wild.") The live, mobile-to-web video coverage fleshed these out by providing the sounds and sights of the conventions, and then round-up blog entries like this one contextualized it all.
One of the biggest benefits of using these on-the-fly technologies is that it allows for a small, nimble crew to cover a lot of ground and get their work out to an audience quickly, without being burdened by cumbersome equipment or even having to depend on a feed truck. It works really well in situations like the conventions where a lot is happening at once. At each event, it seemed that 90% of the action was actually going on outside the convention center buildings, and the five Street Teamers in Denver and five in St. Paul managed to capture a lot of that. They got on-the-fly interviews with celebs from John Legend to Jessica Alba, politicos from Bill Richardson to Bob Dole to Rosa Clemente, major news personalities such as Fox's Shep Smith, and of course lots of young delegates, volunteers and protesters. Even their coverage from inside the convention halls was different from the mainstream reports, in that it provided a peer-to-peer, unscripted glimpse of the conventions up-close.
Street Teamer Anthony of Florida Gets Tear-Gassed, Live from the RNC
The difference between our coverage and that of the mainstream networks is striking not just because of the technology, but also because of what we captured. While the major news networks of the world were safe in their on-site studios, our team was literally on the streets getting the under-reported stories. This was particularly true at RNC, where the thousands of protesters and, more importantly, heavy-handed police reactions, were not well-documented by other media outlets. In one particularly dramatic live-to-web clip, which you can see above, we witnessed one of our reporters going through the physical reaction to being tear-gassed while covering a protest.
The most dramatic example of how our mobile coverage played out was on the final night of the Republican National Convention. While thousands were preparing to cheer McCain's speech inside the convention center, our Wisconsin reporter, Charlie, was hot on the trail of an anti-war protest gearing up outside. His "tweets" began...
- Anti war protest @ capital starts with 2 arrests 02:17 PM September 04, 2008
- **The whole world is watching, protesters chant **@ police 04:52 PM September 04, 2008
- Protest on the move 05:40 PM September 04, 2008
- March goes 2 Marion and University 06:01 PM September 04, 2008
At the same time, we were watching Charlie's Flixwagon reports, wherein protesters, bystanders, and reporters alike, were being rounded up on a bridge. With smoke bombs visible in the background, Charlie told our audience, "We were just told that this is an unlawful assembly, and we must move Southbound or be subject to arrest," and then...
An hour or so went by with no more Twitter or video reports, and we realized that Charlie had probably been arrested. After many calls to local jails, our suspicion was confirmed around 12 AM. Despite his media credentials, Charlie was carted off to prison and separated from his equipment. If it had not been for the pause in his live, mobile, reporting, we would never have even known to ask. Charlie's arrest, along with hundreds of others, occurred right during McCain's speech, when the rest of the worlds' lenses were focused on the presidential nominee.
Charlie was released from jail around 6 AM...but his backpack full of gear was still inside. The police needed to hang on to the video camera, tapes and other equipment, "for security purposes." As I type, his equipment is still being held in St. Paul and our attorneys are working on getting it released. If the police had it their way, his footage from the protest would still have not seen the light, and by the time it came out, it would be "yesterday's news." Fortunately for us and our audience, Charlie was reporting live from his cell phone, and we all witnessed another side of what was happening in St. Paul while John McCain was accepting the presidential nomination.