Thursday, October 02, 2008

Covering Obama in Grand Rapids

I love covering presidential candidates, and it doesn’t matter whether they area a Democrat or a Republican. The presidency, and all of its trappings, is majestic and so uniquely American.

Thursday I was able to play a small role in our coverage of Barack Obama’s visit to Grand Rapids. The most interesting parts to me aren’t necessarily what you see on the news, but the little details, the things that go into making an event like this so exciting.

It starts long before the candidate arrives. There is a lot of strategy at work.

I brought my camera along, and, like when I visit a ballpark, I snap away and anything that moves – and doesn’t move.

I’ll show a bunch of those shots here.

Here's the view from the main media photo riser. Note the positioning of the stage and the visual elements, such as the huge "Change" sign dead center. If you hear nothing the candidate says, you'll still see the word "Change," the message the campaign wants you to get.

I like to stroll the blocks around an event. That’s where some of the most colorful people are – passionate folks willing to wait on long lines because they don’t have VIP passes, the protesters and the vendors.

Unlike the McCain event last month, there were very few people protesting. But there were more people selling things than I’ve ever seen.

There was no shortage of gear available.

Usually you get the roaming button dealers. Last month I saw a couple tents with some t-shirts.

But today there were people selling caps and shirts of all colors and designs up and down the street. There were vendors with photos and posters – few of which appeared to be authorized by the campaigns, but I suspect they’d rather have people walking around showing support than quibble over royalties over a logo.

Inside, things are more controlled. Especially the message. The real target at these events are not the thousands of people who are present, but the hundreds of thousands of people who might see the photos in the newspaper or its Web site or on television.

You’ll see hand-made signs in the crowd, and those are indeed made simply – but by campaign volunteers. They only want cameras to see the messages the campaign wants them to see. They pass them out to people who are happy to wave them.

You’ll also see the mass-produced signs with the campaign theme of the week, be that “Country First” for McCain or “Change We Need” for Obama. These are distributed right before the candidate arrives.

Usually there are a string of local speakers to get the crowd warmed up, and if they do their job the place will be electric. I’ve said before there is almost a crackling building to a crescendo by the time the candidate takes the stage. The only things I can compare it to are a band at its peak launching into its best song, or, say, David Wright making the upper deck of Shea shake after a walk-off win against the Yankees.

That seemed a little lacking today. But that could be because of the early hour, or because an outside event just won’t have the volume as a packed house. The positioning of the stage favored the media – remember the visuals – rather than a lot of attendees who I’m not sure had a decent view of Obama, or any at all.

Obama is a charismatic personality, and certainly a gifted speaker – especially before an adoring crowd. It was a treat to watch him and study not just what he said, but how he said it.

OK, there are a couple of cool things going on here. The guy in the sunglasses is a Secret Service agent. Do not mess with him. Do not even entertain thoughts of messing with him. The Obama Biden sign he is partially blocking is bullet-proof. Another one is covered by the bunting. They're placed at either side of the podium so that if something happens they agents can get the candidate in a sheltered area. The tilted glass on the poles on both sides of the podium are TelePrompTers, which allow the candidate to read the speech and still look up at the audience.

I noticed he was reading off a TelePrompTer, which I’ve never seen at a rally before. But comparing my notes and the prepared text made available to the media, I noticed he deviated a fair amount.

You don’t get deep policy discussions or details at a rally. The idea is to fire people up and provide the visuals. And truth be told, they’re a lot of fun to cover.

1 comment:

G-Fafif said...

Great insights! Thanks!