Aswini Anburajan is a twenty-seven-year-old campaign reporter (a.k.a. “embed”) who has been traveling with Barack Obama’s campaign for NBC News/National Journal since September 2007. As such, Anburajan: writes for the National Journal and The Hotline’s On Call blog; reports for National Journal On Air, a weekly radio show on XM satellite radio; writes for MSNBC.com and MSNBC.com’s blog, First Read; and does live phone reports for MSNBC and live reports for MSNBC mobile.
She has been an associate producer at ABCNEWS.com, a news associate at NBC, and a researcher for NBC’s Today Show. Previously, Anburajan worked as an opposition researcher at the Democratic National Committee and, during the 2004 presidential campaign, as an organizer in New Hampshire for [Howard] Dean for America.
On one of two sick days off the campaign trail this week, Anburajan spoke to Campaign Desk’s Liz Cox Barrett about her experiences covering the Obama campaign.
Liz Cox Barrett: Can you describe what you do on a daily basis, typically?
Aswini Anburajan: I get up around 5, 6 a.m. Then I frantically look at my Blackberry to see what I might have missed .There’s usually a conference call I have to be on. Either NBC or National Journal will hold a conference call or the campaigns are starting the day really early with some back-and-forth calls.
Then, you grab your stuff, leave your hotel room, get on the bus. A lot of our day is spent sitting on buses and planes waiting for the candidate to show up. So we get on the bus and go to our first event of the day, usually a town hall or a roundtable. If it’s a roundtable it’s a total message event and it’s really for local media. The candidate sits down and listens to concerns of local people with thirty cameras watching him so it’s a little staged.
What I was doing in Iowa and what I’m doing now are radically different. Because now we fly everywhere, three states a day, sometimes. And along the way, as a national reporter, you’re hoping for a press conference. You see what else is going on while you’re covering these rallies. Because at these rallies, unless he suddenly decides to start attacking McCain, there’s very little news to be made. You note the crowd size, what people are saying, talk to people sometimes, sometimes you can get a great little nugget.
By the end of the day, you usually end it with a big rally and you’re back in your hotel in a different state by around, I’d say, 11 p.m. is a good time to get back. It can be later, which is painful, because you’re usually turning around and doing it all again the next day.
LCB: What is the extent of what you produce in a given day?
AA: Once upon a time, we were out there by ourselves. It was only the embeds who were covering these events. Sometimes there was even very little local press. And we’d be the only ones there with video, with our cameras and tripods taping them. This was pretty consistent through Thanksgiving. And this was in Iowa and in New Hampshire. And we would drive ourselves from event to event. We got smart and finally decided to carpool. So you get to the event, film it, shoot it, something interesting happens, something compelling happens. You call your desk, upload it. The most you could ever send is about four minutes of [video] at a time. You just did it on the road. You’re talking with your phone scrunched up against your shoulder so you can talk while you upload video. I’ve gotten a lot of speeding tickets.
We’d file a lot back then. You’d write after every event. By December, we started having crews with us all the time I file no matter what happens after every event. That note maybe will or won’t be published but there’s always an editorial note: this is the crowd, this is the mood, this is the tone. Usually these days, when you write up an event and it’s the standard stuff, there’s no news value to it.
Now when I’m shooting video, the video is more focused on what’s going on on the plane, what’s the candidate doing, is he holding a press avail, is there fun stuff happening in the crowd that I can shoot. If we’re going to a retail stop we usually have to pool it because there are so many of us now. Sometimes you can get in the candidate’s face and ask a question, which you then share with all five networks because it’s a pool. And also rope lines, we still shoot rope lines.