It’s the last day of the Republican National Convention, and the floor of the Tampa Bay Times Forum is thick with reporters, volunteers, and delegates killing time while they wait for something to happen. In several hours, presidential nominee Mitt Romney will descend and tell the nation why he deserves their votes. “They built a whole new stage for Mitt Romney tonight,” says a reporter doing a stand-up for a local news station. He pauses and restarts. “They built a whole new stage for Mitt Romney tonight,” he says again.
Suddenly, unexpectedly, Mitt Romney appears on that whole new stage, to pose for pictures with some convention staffers, and the calm becomes hysteria. Running to put themselves in prime picture-taking and question-yelling distance, reporters cluster at Romney’s presumed exit route, jumping on chairs, almost breaking them. Sure enough, when Romney leaves the stage to chants of “Rom-ney! Rom-ney!,” he leaves via the route lined with reporters; and as the assembled journalists and cameramen snap flashes and shout questions, the candidate stops to talk to one man.“Bourrah, arra, ha-cha, bourrah,” says Bobby Bird.
Mitt Romney beams. “It’s a big night tonight! Thank you,” he says, shaking Bird’s hand before leaving the floor. As he departs, the room exhales, and soon reporters are complaining about the photos and sound bites they didn’t get. “He stopped. Right there. And talked to this guy,” grumbles one photographer, indicating Bird, who slaps him on the back.
“Bourrah!” says Bird.
“Jeremy is gonna be jealous. He and Bobby are in this sort of competition, and this is really gonna bum him out,” says Arthur Bradford on the bus ride back to the convention center. But if Vest is upset, he doesn’t show it, and he meets Bird at the door with cheers and adulation. “Woo! Yeah, Bobby! Bobby! We did it,” exclaims Vest. “You did Mitt Romney! Oh, yeah!”
“You just nailed it,” says Jen Ollman. “You saw your target, you aimed, fired, and you just nailed it.”
The cheering gets louder, and all of the frazzled reporters who didn’t just talk to Mitt Romney turn to look as the celebration morphs into an elaborate group hug. “You may have just interviewed the next president of the United States!” Vest exults. “Can you believe it? Good job, you old man!”
After MTV cancelled their series, Bradford took some time off from How’s Your News?, unsure whether there was a long-term future for the project. “It’s hard to keep it fresh,” says Bradford. “I ask myself that question. That’s why we haven’t done anything since the series in 2009.” The new documentary is available for direct download for five dollars at the How’s Your News? website; its success will perhaps determine whether How’s Your News? will continue. “It’s hard to keep it fresh,” he says. “I ask myself that all the time. I’m not sure we’ll do How’s Your News? again.”
If that’s true, it’s a shame. P.H. O’Brien, the project’s wry, laconic director of photography, is something of an informal How’s Your News? historian. “I’ve sort of got a museum dedicated to How’s Your News?,” he says, consisting of memorabilia from previous versions of the program—props, news desks—which he stores in two barns at his parents’ house in Massachusetts. When he’s not doing How’s Your News?, O’Brien produces news documentaries in the Boston area. “I remember working on this long-term documentary on Rwandan genocide, then I was working on this,” he says, musing on the incongruity of the two projects. “I think it balances my life out, for sure.”
We’re up on the 500 level of the Time Warner Center in Charlotte, several hours before Barack Obama is scheduled to speak. The reporters are dressed in Obama/Biden apparel, eating popcorn and waiting for the night to begin. “If I could do this all the time, and if I never did anything else again, I’d be thrilled,” says O’Brien. “This is just pure joy.”