In fact, disability advocates tend to like How’s Your News?, which was created with nothing but good intentions. Conceived at Camp Jabberwocky, a Vermont summer camp for people with disabilities, How’s Your News? began when Bradford, teaching video production to campers, thought it might be fun to have them conduct some interviews. The project eventually assumed a news-show format. The name came about one day when a camper named Sean Costello, conducting an interview at a pickup basketball game, sidled up to some players and, in a very soft voice, asked “How’s your sports?” “Arthur just changed it from ‘sports’ to ‘news,” says P.H. O’Brien.
The earliest How’s Your News? videos were simple, homemade productions featuring low-stakes interviews shot on low-quality equipment. “Back in the day, we’d be walking down alleys and talking to homeless people,” O’Brien recalls. “Which we still do.”
Now, they’re stalking bigger prey, much to the reporters’ delight. Though the conventions can be enervating, they’re also fun, and every reporter who’s there wants to be there. But every reporter also pretends that he or she is too cool for it. The How’s Your News? reporters are absolutely thrilled to be there, and they’re very vocal about it. Jeremy Vest is particularly concerned with sharing his excitement. “Are you having a good time?” he asks two women as he waits for Paul Ryan to appear. “Hey, Iris, isn’t this great?” he asks another reporter as they both sit in the balcony of the Time Warner Center one convention night. “Jeremy, I think she’s trying to work,” says Ollman.
The reporters tend to say whatever comes into their minds. They are as likely to insult their interviewees as to hug them. “When we shot the pilot, Sue seemed catatonic,” O’Brien remembers, referring to Harrington, a tiny, ebullient woman with “ocular-something dysgenesis” who likes to categorize her interviewees as various types of cookies. “Then we got [her medication] corrected, and she went the other way. She was on fire. She was swearing all the time. She said to a band: ‘You guys absolutely suck. You are the worst band I’ve ever seen in my life.’”
The unpredictability is what differentiates How’s Your News?, and what makes their interviews worth watching. “I’m an Obama Mama and I’m proud of it,” Harrington informs a female Romney supporter wearing light-up American flag sunglasses. “Yeah, I am not I am not,” Flag Lady replies. The reporters are agents of chaos in a complacent system.
It’s the last day of the 2012 Democratic National Convention, and the How’s Your News? news team has broken into song. As reporters and delegates file into the Time Warner Center, Sue Harrington leads her colleagues in an impromptu serenade. “Democrats! Democrats! Republicans! And Democrats!” sings Harrington, as Jeremy Vest leads a rousing chant of “Four more years! Four more years!“ They’re standing right outside the front gates, a short walk from the temporary MSNBC and CNN compounds, where some of the country’s top political pundits are, essentially, singing the same song.
The big secret of campaign reporting as typically practiced is that it’s not that hard, requiring little more than stamina, a high tolerance for vacuity, and somebody else’s credit card. For every excellent piece filed this campaign season, there were three others consisting of breathless prognostication and uninsightful quotes from bold-faced names. At the political conventions, especially, reporters seem occupied with collecting as many famous people as possible.
How’s Your News? does this as well as anyone. Bradford, Ollman, and O’Brien have become expert at maneuvering their reporters into politicians’ paths. (This can sometimes be dangerous; one afternoon in Tampa, Vest was nearly trampled by a distracted John McCain.) “Pretty much everybody we get in the same airspace as, we can get ‘em,” notes Bradford. “We have some interviews where we just jump em, so we only have time to ask one question.”
Bradford divides the material he films into interviews and interactions. The interviews are loopy, weird, and wonderful: Vest bonding with former Saturday Night Live bandleader G.E. Smith over drummers he has known (Vest: “Which drummers have you played with that are legendary?”) or earnestly asking Jon Voight to put him in touch with Angelina Jolie; Harrington interviewing Geraldo Rivera and comparing him to a chocolate chip cookie. “Geraldo said ‘Did you enjoy that cookie?’” Harrington recalls. “I said ‘Yes, Geraldo, I did.’ He laughed his brains off for three minutes.”