Archives for posts with tag: Political Conventions

John McCain Sound Check 3Tonight is the big finale for the GOP. The events tonight surround the official nomination and acceptance of the presidential and vice presidential candidates, John McCain and Sarah Palin. It’s a packed house. I can’t help but feel tonight is somewhat anticlimactic after yesterday. The tone of this past week seems to have been set on Friday with the announcement of Sarah Palin– briefly derailed by Hurricane Gustav– and then right back onto Palin. Who is she? What’s up with her daughter? Is she going to come out swinging when she speaks?

Some of those questions were answered last night and the response around the bureau today seems to be mostly of the opinion that she did well. Our journalists put together these headline stories: Chicago Tribune, “Palin fires up faithful, comes out swinging”. Los Angeles Times, “Defiant Palin comes out swinging”.

John McCain came out onto the stage early this afternoon to go through a lighting and sound check. I got the heads up from a colleague and quickly grabbed my camera to see what kind of picture I could get– if any. As I walked into the hall, my heart sunk a little bit, looking at the sea of cameramen and photographers clustered around the new stage catwalk constructed especially for McCain’s speech tonight. So I climbed up onto the center camera platform.

Nuccio DiNuzzo 2Nuccio DiNuzzo was up there in our position working out how he was going to shoot the speech tonight. He had all of his cameras and lenses with him: three bodies and about 7 different lenses. I meandered up with my Canon 40D and 24-70mm lens. Way too short to shoot anything directly. Just wide shots of context. DiNuzzo asked if I wanted to use his 400mm. I blinked and then jumped at the chance. DiNuzzo shoots Canon gear and the lenses are interchangeable among all the bodies in the EOS line. So I pulled off my lens and snapped the body onto this huge lens. The Canon EF 400mm f/2.8L IS weighs almost twelve pounds and is monstrous. For about 10 minutes, McCain came out and took in the shape of the hall.

McCain and Lieberman 2Joe Lieberman joined him at one point and McCain took some notes from a number of handlers. I snapped away for most of it. Toward the end of the sound check, DiNuzzo asked for his lens back and I went back to my shorter portrait lens. I got a couple pictures of the photographers around the new stage and one of DiNuzzo hard at work at his craft.

I thought it was very cool to get to play with that lens. For a moment I got to be a real photojournalist. If only in my mind.

So this is it! This is the last day of the two conventions. I have one more day of work tomorrow– tear down and packing up. That should go pretty quickly and easily. It will be the last major responsibility I have for this project.

I’m looking forward to going home. It has been a long, strange, fascinating trip.

Mitt RomneyI’ve decided to call tonight On the Waterfront Night at the Republican National Convention. While Governor Palin was the highlighted speaker of the evening, the hours leading up to her address were filled with speeches from several men who had campaigned for the 2008 Republican nomination. And lost. Mitt Romney, Mike Huckabee and Rudy Giuliani all took the stage to talk about the campaign, the candidates, money, terrorism, Barack Obama, and most of all change. When I saw these three names in order on the night’s speakers’ schedule I immediately added a fourth: Marlon Brando. In my head I imagined each one of these politicians doing their version of Brando’s Academy Award-winning speech:

You don’t understand! I could have had class, I could have been a contender. I could have been somebody. Instead of a bum, which is what I am.

I snagged a credential to get me into the hall for Romney and Huckabee’s speeches. I crouched behind our journalists in the daily press writing press stands to the left of the stage and looked out over the crowd of delegates. The atmosphere inside the hall during these speeches was powerful. The speakers were playing to a partisan crowd, to be sure. And the messages sent were intentionally crafted to be incendiary– firing up the base of the political party. That I did not mind; that effect is a function of these conventions. And I did not particularly mind the difference of political opinions being expressed when compared to my own. There were two particular elements I did mind: the appeal to fear and the the broad disparity between what was said to motivate and the subsequent policies enacted once in power. Mitt Romney’s attacks on liberal government were crystalline examples of the latter. Rudy Guiliani’s incessant waving of the bloody shirt the epitome of the former.

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Nuccio DiNuzzoSo for the first time I get to really watch the process of a full day of news production in the bureau. By the time the second day of the DNC came around and I was comfortable with the setup enough to play ‘fly on the wall’ I had to hop on an airplane and come to St. Paul. Yesterday was a highly abbreviated session due to Hurricane Gustav. So today was the first real day. It was interesting to watch, to just be a part of and absorb as it happened around me.

But I want to back up and talk a little bit about last night. I spent most of yesterday evening with two of the photographers from the Los Angeles Times. I met up with Genaro Molina and Myung J. Chun back at the hotel. I’ve been talking to them off and on over the course of the last few days, mostly legitimate work-related topics dealing with the setup and logistics of shooting the convention. What services are available where? Where can I get credentials? What’s the best way for me to upload these pictures quickly? Last night I sat down and talked with them both in some depth about their careers in photojournalism. What they like about it, what they could leave be. Challenges with competing with the wire services, particularly for Internet content. We talked about the conversion from film to digital in late 1999. The place for still photography in journalism. Chun had a number of interesting thoughts on that topic as he moved from still photography to video about six years ago.

The whole evening was entertaining and enlightening. They were both very forthcoming and engaging. I really enjoyed the opportunity to talk shop with them. And then to get to follow up that conversation with observing them work– the selection of shots, the submission, and the anxious wait to see what, if anything, had been selected. This is another of the sort of immediate, visceral experience I was hoping to have. It was good.

As for news stories of the day, they were primarily follow-up to the stories from yesterday: the aftermath of Gustav, the imminent threat of three more named storms in the Atlantic, further fallout and discussion of Bristol and Sarah Palin. Some of our journalists are still working that story. Rumor is that Levi Johnston, Bristol’s boyfriend, will be in attendance at the convention tomorrow night when Sarah Palin is scheduled to speak. A number of other journalists have moved beyond this story and on to investigate Sarah Palin’s executive work. They are taking a hard look at her apparent change in position on the Bridge to Nowhere in Alaska. Tom Kole, Broadcasting Manager of the Washington DC bureau, commented to me first thing in the morning as I arrived about Sarah Palin’s apparent change in position regarding the Federal funding about the bridge. Look for more of these sorts of stories as the news media scours her Alaskan political career.

With Gustav dissipating and the New Orleans levees still intact, hurricane hunters looked further east in the Atlantic and reported three tropical storms now with names: Hanna, Ike and Josephine. Some or all of these storms may develop into hurricanes and head toward the United States. None of them will make landfall in the US before the close of the Republican convention, however, so it looks to be a return to more normal activities here in the hall.

Jon VoightTwo other small items. First, while poking around the hall this morning before the session opened, I ran across Jon Voight on Radio Row. Radio Row is the name for a section of the conference center set aside specifically for the use of talk radio. Their setups are not particularly fancy: usually a table, three or four microphones, some audio equipment, a phone or two, maybe a television or a laptop. But there are dozens of these setups, one right next to the other running the length of the hallway. Radio Row is actually four rows set up like this in parallel. Voight had been cornered by a mob of print, radio, and television journalists when I happened across him. At the time he was answering questions about Bristol and Sarah Palin. Bristol’s pregnancy continued to be the big news story throughout the morning. Jon Voight has been vocal about his political opinions this election cycle. Last week he published an opinion piece critical of Barack Obama in the Washington Times. I suspect that publication has something to do with his appearance at the convention.

Second, Ron Paul hosted a sell-out crowd in Minneapolis today for his “Rally for the Republic”. I believe Ron Paul’s Libertarian-leaning, conservative politics pose an intriguing dynamic for the Republican party and I leave you tonight with a brief glimpse into the rally as presented by Myung J. Chun.

React QuotesHurricane Gustav made landfall south and west of New Orleans today as a Category 2 storm. This was down from the Category 3 classification last night. Many meteorologists expected Gustav to grow in strength to Category 4 rather than lessen. So the hurricane made landfall with strong winds, rain, tornadoes and storm surge of 6-8 feet. We’ll see what sort of long-term impact the storm has for Louisiana and Texas over the next several days, but initial reports seem to indicate that this hurricane has not had the dramatic effect that Katrina and Rita did three years ago. I may be premature, but I suspect that its impact on the Republican National Convention in St. Paul will be minimal and shortly the convention will return to its more typical course of events.

Rather than Gustav, the big story of the morning at “The X” is Bristol Palin. Bristol is the 17 year-old daughter of Republican vice presidential candidate, Sarah Palin. Bristol is five-months pregnant. Apparently this story came to light today in an attempt by the McCain campaign to rebut the rumors that Palin’s youngest child was actually her daughter’s. Steve Schmidt, McCain’s senior campaign strategist, was outside our workspace talking about the news. What began as a small group of 3 quickly grew into 20 or more. To the point where the crash of journalists and photographers threatened to knock down our temporary walls. Inevitably the media tried to get a reaction quote from Barack Obama. Obama responded in a way that reminded me of Bill Clinton, “I have said it before and I will repeat it again: people’s families are off limits. People’s children are especially off limits. This shouldn’t be part of politics.” He refused to say anything about Bristol Palin. Meanwhile, I overheard Aaron Zitner, an editor for the Los Angeles Times, say regarding the timing of the story, “Just when I wake up and say no one should be working on deadline today. We’ve been working all these days straight. The campaign serves up something just so incredible.”

So, go out there and read the papers, find out all the rest of the scandal. These people are working hard to bring it to you.

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The word of the day is: Gustav. This hurricane has impacted Haiti, the Dominican Republic, Jamaica, the Cayman Islands, Cuba and is now bearing down on Louisiana. It is almost three years to the day since Hurricane Katrina followed a similar path through the Caribbean, the Gulf of Mexico and through New Orleans. When media outlets began covering this storm last week I thought the attention was a bit premature. Today, with the hurricane a couple hundred miles off the coast of Louisiana and the National Hurricane Center predicting the storm should grow in strength before it makes landfall, I think the hurricane coverage is more appropriate.

In light of the storm’s approach on Louisiana, the Republican National Committee and the McCain campaign today decided to significantly curtail the extent of their national convention. We had been warned that these changes might take place and they outlined the specifics for us at 3:00 pm this afternoon. Tomorrow the convention will begin as scheduled, but in abbreviated fashion. They will ensure a quorum to do business, constitute the convention and fulfill the basic minimal requirements necessary to make the convention a legal and binding event in the political process. Nothing more. No political rhetoric. No additional activity.

Open Mic NightGoing forward the RNC will hold a political briefing each day at noon with the specific details of the schedule of events they have planned for that day– and that day only. They are approaching this set of circumstances on a day-by-day basis. The carefully-scripted playbook of speeches and entertainment has been tossed out the window. I was quite interested to learn that this is the first time a national convention has been altered due to external concerns like a natural disaster.

Michael Brown had an interesting quote published today. Michael Brown led FEMA during Katrina. He was forced to resign his position shortly after that storm as the extent of the agency’s failings became clear. Yesterday, the Associated Press quoted Brown as saying, “You don’t play politics with disasters.”

This was a very different sort of day than the evening before the DNC in Denver. — I have commented several times on the difference in tone around the site, and now external factors have tossed a new variable into the mix. I spoke with a number of reporters, engineers and photographers in our temporary bureau, trying to get an idea of their feelings about these changes. Many of them were anxious to get to Louisiana and cover that. I eavesdropped as Jim outfitted the Los Angeles Times Midwest Bureau Chief, P.J. Huffstutter, with a satellite phone and portable video camera. I talked briefly with her about why she desired to go to Louisiana. She had covered rural Louisiana and Mississippi after Katrina and Rita three years ago and said that while the work was difficult and unpleasant– hot, loud, living out of a car– the stories were incredibly compelling.

One of my personal goals with this project is to get a small sense of what it is like to work in a newsroom. And for a little while today on the first official day of production I got that wish. I hope I will expand on that experience over the next several days.

Wish me luck.

Minnesota State Fair 1And on the thirteenth day, I rested. As of today, I have been gone thirteen days. Today was my first day off in that period of time. We completed setup yesterday. The security sweep began this afternoon and lasts until tomorrow morning. Tomorrow we begin production in earnest. Today was our one day for ourselves. Jim went over to the media center workspace this morning just to check and make sure everything was still running smoothly. Other than our connection on the center camera platform being mysteriously disconnected– it was working just fine on Friday when I tested it– everything was groovy. Jim got the connection corrected in short order. Off to find some fun.

So on our day off, Jim, Tony and I headed over to the Minnesota State Fair. The Minnesota State Fair may be one of the largest state fairs in the United States. Measured in terms of daily attendance, it probably is the largest state fair. The Texas State Fair is arguably the largest in terms of yearly attendance but it also runs for twice as long. So who’s to say. It was big. This was certainly the largest fair– county, state or otherwise– I have ever attended.

Italian IceThe three of us meandered around the fairgrounds and sampled a number of different treats. Bavarian weisswurst, elephant ears, cheese curds, beer. We rode the skyride tram over the fairgrounds from one end to the other, visited the horse paddock, listened to some live music, learned a bit about state history and met Princess Kay of the Milky Way. There was no rush. No place to be. No obligations to meet. No deadlines. We walked and talked and ate and drank and enjoyed a gorgeous, sunny day at the end of summer.

I do want to say something about food on-a-stick. Food on a stick is a standard at every Midwestern summer event I have attended. Why this is, I don’t know. It just is. Go to a fair sometime in the Midwest. You will find food on a stick. I guarantee it. Pie on-a-stick, frozen bananas on-a-stick, pizza on-a-stick, cheese on-a-stick.

Fresh Fried Fruit On-A-StickToday I ran into a variation I had not thought possible: fresh fried fruit on-a-stick. I am not the only one that has noticed the food on-a-stick phenomenon. Over at the Heritage Tent they were celebrating Minnesota’s 150 years of statehood with a musical history tour, “Old Minnesota, Song of the North Star”. The show takes the audience through the state’s history with short reenactments, musical numbers and general good fun. I saw one particularly appropriate description of the show on my way out: a state on a schtick.

I thought that was great. I admit that I have always been attracted to people, places and events of Americana. I’ve been to the Covered Bridge Festival in Rockville, Indiana. County fairs in several midwestern states. Countless roadside attractions from Death Valley to Wall Drug to Sleeping Bear Dunes. I take simple pleasure from them. They help to put large swaths of my life into greater perspective. Today I added the Minnesota State Fair to the list for no particular reason than to just go and enjoy.

Besides, who can say no to elephant ears? I mean, really.

Charlie Brown and SnoopyI’ve turned the corner and am heading into the home stretch now. Work today consisted of tidying up the few remaining loose ends with the setup. A couple photographers came in today and a couple people from broadcasting. All in all, it was a much more comfortable pace today than it has been for the past two weeks. With any luck, we will have tomorrow off completely. We’re thinking about going to the Minnesota State Fair in the afternoon and then to the media reception hosted by the GOP tomorrow night.

So I took the opportunity of the little bit of down time to take some pictures. I had noticed a collection of statues of Peanuts characters in Rice Park near the convention site. Charles Schultz grew up in the Twin Cities. He was born in Minneapolis and spent most of his formative years in St. Paul. The statues are life-sized and taken from classic poses found in his fifty years of Peanuts strips. I also got what I hope you will find a humorous picture of the Herb Brooks statue on the east side of the Rivercentre. He looks so excited, and with the backdrop of the RNC decorations, I could not pass up the opportunity to shoot him, too.

The Situation RoomWolf Blitzer and Gloria Borger from CNN arrived on site today and began doing live shots for “The Situation Room”. Anderson Cooper had been with the two of them in Denver, but he has headed to New Orleans with James Carville to monitor the developments with Hurricane Gustav. I guess it’s easier to see the satellite images and make vague, emotional comparisons to Hurricane Katrina when you’re actually in Louisiana. I don’t know. I’m the new guy.

On a more serious note, hurricanes are no laughing matter. Hurricanes are the most powerful weather phenomenon on the planet. A hurricane cannot be stopped, dissuaded or redirected. And while I agree that there is a story in covering this storm as it moves out of the the Caribbean and into the Gulf of Mexico I am troubled by the repetition of comparisons. Rumors have been circulating the Xcel center most of the day concerning the possibility the Republican National Committee may postpone the convention due to the possibility of Hurricane Gustav making landfall in Texas or Louisiana on Tuesday or Wednesday. I do not know when they committee might make that call. I suspect they will want to delay as long as possible before they do. Given the amount of planning and coordination that went into this convention– I am not just speaking for me, but for the party, the delegates, the media in general– a delay would mean a massive disruption. I will keep you posted as I learn something.

The other big story around “The X”– I learned that is the local nickname for the Xcel Energy Center– is John McCain‘s choice of Sarah Palin as his running mate. It came as quite a surprise to most everyone, and there was a mad scramble for information on her. I provided a very small amount of assistance to a member of the Los Angeles Times western bureau trying to get some sort of Internet connectivity to file a story from Alaska concerning background information on Palin.

"Do you believe in miracles?"We ended the night over on Grand Avenue, an older St. Paul neighborhood that lives up to the name. Large Victorian homes overlook the Mississippi River, upscale restaurants and nightlife along broad tree-lined streets. But the highlight of the evening was visiting the Grand Ole Creamery. Ice cream heaven on a gorgeous summer evening. It was the perfect way to relax after twelve straight days on the road.

Capitol Dome at DuskI am struck by the difference in tone between the two conventions– at least as it appears during setup week. I noticed the difference when I arrived in St. Paul on Tuesday. The amount of activity in and around the Xcel Center appeared to be significantly less. The scale of the preparations– both by the party and by the media outlets– seems smaller. Today as I was leaving the site I commented that it was almost as if the St. Paul schedule was a day or more behind the schedule in Denver. From our point of view, we began a day later in St. Paul than we did in Denver and are finding ourselves ahead of schedule. We have a light day of work ahead of us tomorrow, and barring catastrophe should be good to start production any time after that. Complications have been minimal and efficiently remediated.

We took the opportunity of being ahead of schedule to enjoy a bit of the city. We learned, by way of the Los Angeles Times Atlanta bureau chief that St. Paul has a thriving Vietnamese population. And not long thereafter I found a highly recommended place for phở, a traditional Vietnamese rice noodle soup that I have grown to love since my colleagues at Midway introduced me to it three years ago. With a bit of assistance from Jim, we coaxed the team to come with us and try Vietnamese cooking. This began our short tour of Frogtown. Frogtown is the heart of St. Paul’s Asian community. The phở was authentic and delicious.

After lunch we ran an errand that took us to the old money historic section of St. Paul that lines the appropriately-named Grand Avenue. Large Victorian homes line the streets. Eclectic and upscale shops lined the streets and some signs of potential nightlife put this section of town on our collective radar. The downtown of St. Paul has been surprisingly quiet in that respect, so far.

Fitzgerald TheaterAfter spending the afternoon finishing up the installations in the writing press stands, Tony and I took a tour of the Xcel Center to get a few pictures, and then went back to the hotel to drop off our computers and other non-essentials before heading back out into the city of St. Paul to get some photographs. I had wanted to take a picture of the historic Fitzgerald Theater. The Fitzgerald Theater is the oldest existing stage venue in the city of St. Paul, and the home of Garrison Keillor’s A Prairie Home Companion. The dusk light was quickly disappearing as we made our way up to the Minnesota State Capitol building and then over to the Cathedral of Saint Paul. I got a few shots of each location before the light failed us entirely. I did not bring my tripod with me to do some long exposures. And more than that I did not have a lot of time for photography as I wanted to get back to the hotel in time to see Barack Obama’s acceptance speech at Mile High Stadium.

With the Democratic Convention concluded, and just three days remaining before the Republican Convention begins, I will be curious to see if the pace in St. Paul picks up as dramatically as it did in Denver.

Until then, good night!

Today I crossed the aisle. Today marked the first day I had nothing to do with the Democratic National Convention in Denver and the first day that I focussed exclusively on the Republican National Convention in St. Paul. Today was a quiet, productive day. I got a lot of prepratory work completed. I finished building out our wide-area network back to Chicago. I started and finished building out the local-area network to support the RNC media workspace. I got one of our several Internet access locations working and confirmed that the others would be ready tomorrow– in plenty of time before the convention begins on Monday. Today was an uneventful, productive day.

At one point I wrote to the operations crew back in Denver to see how things were going there, and received word that the setup was operating smoothly and without problems. That was good. That made me happy.

Tony Tests Out the WorkspaceToday also saw one more member of our team arrive. Tony came in late this afternoon from Chicago and joined us for the last couple hours of setup before we headed off to dinner together. Tony does desktop and application support for the editorial staff at Tribune Tower and is here through the duration of the RNC to provide that support to the remote bureau. I did not have any opportunity to walk around and shoot pictures other than one of him, so here it is.

The only other excitement to report in St. Paul is the weather. We had violent thunderstorms last night. One lightning strike hit within a block of my hotel and disrupted my otherwise restful sleep. Tonight the heavens opened up again while the setup team was out to dinner and provided a much-needed rainstorm. We tried to wait things out by watching baseball games and drinking beer but after three hours and no let-up in sight, we called it quits and grabbed a cab back to the hotel.

I have made a list of some places around St. Paul I would like to shoot. And if I get a chance tomorrow I’ll see if I can’t capture some frames of some of them.

Today marks the halfway point in this trip. So far the stress has been manageable, the work fulfilling, and the experience very worthwhile. If the second half continues with that trend, I will be a very happy man.

Republican StageToday I started over. Today I said goodbye to Denver and flew on to St. Paul to begin anew. The Democratic National Convention is well underway. We have seen two days of full production run through the design we created– last night being the first full night of production while the actual convention was running. Things went very smoothly. So smoothly, in fact that as I was packing up my gear to leave for the night a number of journalists, editors and photographers took the time to thank me for the work I had done. One editor from the Los Angeles Times went on to specifically mention the seamlessness of the network. He appreciated that he was able to work as if he were in the newsroom in Los Angeles, but was also in Denver at the same time– where the news was happening.

This small moment made everything worthwhile for me. This quiet thank you told me that everything I had wanted to accomplish: too keep it simple, to keep it flexible, and to keep it unobtrusive. All of these things I had been able to do. So it is with that confidence– and no small amount of accompanying fatigue– that I boarded a jet at oh-God-thirty in the morning for St. Paul for our first day of setup at the Republican National Convention.

Jim and I were both very tired. We had not gotten to bed until after midnight, and had to be up at 5:00 to get to the airport. So with a few hours sleep, we made our way through the Xcel Center to check on the status of our bureau build-out and service orders throughout the hall. Turns out we are in good shape. I was able to get the wide-area network connections back to Chicago to come up and pass traffic with little effort. Our other access orders had been confused here and there– we’d come to expect this since Denver– but we were able to straighten it out with just a couple hours of careful conversations with the correct people.

CBS NetworkSo after that had been accomplished we called it a day and took a quick tour around the facilities. We’re nosy that way. I wanted to see how far along the RNC was in comparison to the DNC at this same time last week. I thought that the RNC was about the same way along toward completion as the DNC had been last Tuesday. Roger thought that the RNC was much further along in comparison. The setup is considerably less dramatic than the stage for the DNC. At least at this point in the construction. That may change. At the end of the day we looked around the media workspaces and poked our nose into the quite large workspace set aside for CBS. Their network and video setup is of a considerably greater complexity than what I must contend with.

We went out together for a nice dinner and then retired to our rooms to watch the evening’s coverage of the DNC, get a good night’s sleep and prepare for a full day’s work, tomorrow.

Round Two starts in just a few hours.