When I returned to my Las Vegas hotel room late Monday afternoon and read the first few e-mails from the East Coast congratulating us on the long-awaited – for us, at least – launch of the Big Picture series, I realized this is an ideal opportunity to remind everyone these stories are a team effort and what I, and other correspondents, do, is just the tip of the iceberg.
It's also a chance to bring our viewers and online readers inside the tent. By that I mean inside the planning and decision making process that goes into making a special report like this one -- or any news story, for that matter -- come together on the air. Besides, I'm a long-time believer in the need for journalists to be more open about how we do the work we do.
The NewsHour's Executive Producer Linda Winslow came up with the idea of the Big Picture series earlier this year as a way of making sure we listen to the voters in Election 2008. There'll be plenty of other opportunities to cover the candidates, but this provides a formula for spending time in up to a dozen cities, and staying long enough to learn what's on the minds of voters.
After dozens of internal discussions and a helpful grant from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, a team of reporters and producers at the NewsHour -- based in Washington, D.C., and in Denver -- started gathering information on cities we might visit. Denver Bureau Chief Patti Parson oversaw the early research and in September, her producers, Mary Jo Brooks and Merrill Schwerin, made calls to political and demographic experts about which people live in each area we wanted to cover.
We quickly settled on Las Vegas. Because of its early caucus position, it's the first voting state in the West, and it has a diverse population, with a large number of immigrants. It didn't hurt that Tom Axtell, the general manager of the public television station here -- KLVX-TV or Vegas PBS -- was eager to have us visit.
By early October, Washington-based NewsHour political reporters Caroline Nathan and Beth Summers, overseen by Senior Producer Jim Trengrove, were phoning places like the University of Nevada, Las Vegas; the headquarters of the Culinary Workers Union; Veterans of Foreign Wars; Clark County officials and practically every casino-hotel based in Las Vegas. Working hand-in-hand with the Online NewsHour staff, including Lee Banville, Anna Shoup and Maureen Hoch, we shared ideas for the best way to make sure our online and broadcast coverage would complement each other.
Caroline and Beth collected a massive amount of research, on top of what our Denver bureau had already accumulated, including the names of some community leaders who might want to be interviewed on the NewsHour about Las Vegas and its issues. Then, many discussions and meetings later, we winnowed down the information, and the experts, and made plans to send NewsHour Senior Correspondent Ray Suarez, producers and camera crews to Las Vegas in late October to begin shooting the stories that began appearing on the air and the Web site on Nov. 12th.
But before any of this could happen, hundreds of phone calls were made -- to arrange interviews; to make hotel, car rental and plane reservations; to establish contact with the technical staff at Vegas PBS, our satellite feed point in Las Vegas; and to ask permission of casinos for our camera crew to shoot video. The big companies that own the casinos are protective -- they don't want news crews roaming around on their private property without knowing why and giving a green light.
The managers of the Stratosphere let us shoot from the spectacularly situated observation deck on the 112th floor, the site of my interview with political analyst Jon Ralston. Caesars Palace provided an ideal quiet spot -- in their exclusive Bradley Ogden restaurant -- where we taped an interview with four prominent Las Vegans about the economy here and its impact on Nevadans' political choices. That will air Tuesday.
Caesars Palace employees were standing near-by at all times, and even arranged for some of the music to be turned down -- music plays constantly through omnipresent loudspeakers -- while I taped the introduction to that interview.
Finally, thanks must go to our incredibly hard-working but almost always invisible camera crews and editors, whom I want to credit by name. They go to the sites where we do field interviews, hours ahead of time, and often stay up late at night, to make sure we have the best possible setting, lighting and audio for the discussions you see on the NewsHour. With apologies to those I'm probably inadvertently leaving out, I want to thank our Denver-based camera crew members: Tim Smith, Brian Gill, Jim Van Vranken, Brian Weinberg and Kevin Sanchez and our Washington-based staff: Director Steve Howard, Engineer in Charge Chuck Nixon, Production Manager Diane Silver and Las Vegas Project Production Manager Antoinette Dean.
We'll be in Las Vegas all this week and we couldn't do it without all of the people I mentioned and so many more who our viewers and online readers don't get to meet on the air or on this Web site. It is an easy thing to forget when we are all busy in the field doing the reporting, but I wanted to take a moment to let you all in on what it takes to mount a series like the Big Picture.