Saturday, January 5, 2008

Iowa Showdown: Press Pass


So Huckabee won out over his republican competitors in the Iowa caucuses. That's old news.

He gave pretty much the same speech he gave at his rally on Tuesday night, so that's nothing new. Huckabee, like Obama, is most certainly playing on change as his major selling point with voters.

However, Huckabee himself was not the most exciting part of that night for me.

I stopped by the media table at Huckabee's watch party at the Embassy Suites in Des Moines last night to see if I could get my hands on a press pass.

A quick flash of the student ID and voila! I was granted access and soon found myself in the section cordoned off for press photographers. I was sitting behind the big boys from Time, Reuters, Newsweek, U.S. News, and the Associated Press. Oh my God.

I struck up a brief conversation with Charlie Archambault of U.S. News. Awesome guy. The thing that was really cool was the camaraderie that existed between all of these big-name photographers. These guys knew each other and all had a professional understanding and respect for each other. Plus, this was just another routine assignment for them.

The first excitement of the evening came when they spotted a circle of Huckabee's supporters praying for a victory. We descended upon them on like a duck on a junebug.

While we're waiting for Huck to make his appearance, let me just take a minute to explain how difficult it was to work with the guy who was managing the photographers.

Now, I'm not trying to be a cocky amateur photographer; this fellow was legitimately pissing off the professional guys.

First, he's trying to get a pool of five photographers to go up to the front of podium to get shots of Huckabee giving his victory speech. Just five.

Next, he has the brilliant idea of of sending eight photographers at a time. Riiight. His reasoning? "We can't have all of you guys up there at once. That just won't work."

"You mean like it works ever other time?" asks Pulitzer Prize-winner Khue Bui, who currently works for Newsweek.

Next idea: Okay, we can all stay up there for Huckabee's initial entry, but we have to leave after 45 seconds. By this time the photographers are just agreeing to anything to get the guy to back off.

Finally, he sees the light. You can all stay the whole time, but you have to stay down, and when Huckabee gets done with his speech you have to move to the stage (in a counter-clockwise, orderly fashion) so he can shake hands with the people in the crowd. Best idea you've had all night.

When we finally do move to the stage, no one is orderly. Everyone just hops up on stage. His response? "Ok, guys move around to the other side...It's time to move...Come on guys just--goddamn it!"

(Caption--The view from my end: Newsweek's Khue Bui (left) and a photographer from the Rocky Mountain Press snap photos of Huckabee as he gives his victory speech.)

Rolling with the big boys taught me an important, though elementary lesson. When you're on assignment, always dress in dark clothing.

Early on, I realized that all of them were wearing dark colors (mainly black), but I didn't really know why. I, of course, stuck out like a sore thumb with my blue jeans and light plaid, pearl-snap shirt. Not to mention my equipment: 20D with a 28mm lens sans accessories.

Anyway, Huckabee finally comes out on stage and suddenly this guy in a white sweater toting a home video camera appears in the press section. He's not obstructing our shots (yet), but he's obviously not with the press.

When Huckabee finishes his speech and we finally do move to the stage, Whitie decides it will be a good idea to stay on the floor next to the governor and continue his home footage from there.

The photographers have other ideas. A couple of them clap hands on his shoulders and pull him back. "You're going to stand in front of us and wear white?!" One of them manages from behind his camera. Whitie is a little hurt, emotionally speaking, but nobody pays that much attention.

Taking a hint, I hastily sit down on the edge of the stage and continue my shooting from there.

(Caption--As Huckabee shakes hands with fans, a supporter from Illinois shows off a picture of the governor playing bass. Huckabee signed the photo.)

Edit (1/17):
I'm afraid I haven't fully conveyed my elation about being able to participate in this event. Despite the press manager and the video-camera-toting fan, this night was incredible. In fact, they even contributed to the evening because they provided a valuable learning experience.

This was without a doubt the most exciting experience of my young journalistic career, which is ironic considering that for the pros it was a routine--maybe even mundane--assignment. To me however, it was enthralling to follow people who get payed to report the news. It was riveting to see national news in action, be in the thick of it and then read it in the papers the next day or even within a few hours.

This solidified in my mind that this is the career for me, and I'm so grateful for the opportunity to have had the experience. It's given me a high that is still with me three weeks later. Brilliant.

Oh, did I mention Chuck Norris was there again? I got this shot over the shoulder of a reporter interviewing the guy who uses a live rattlesnake as a condom. Cheers.

No comments: