Aboard the C-SPAN Bus During the New Hampshire Primary
On a chilly morning this past Sunday in Plymouth, New Hampshire, people filed quickly through a parking lot, some of them wearing their “Make America Great Again” hats in support of Republican candidate Donald Trump. They were there to see Trump as he continued his presidential campaign two days before the state’s primary. Supporters, opposers and neutral citizens alike couldn’t walk towards the college athletic center where the presidential hopeful would kick off his rally without seeing the large C-SPAN Campaign 2016 bus, decked out in red white and blue.
It’s hard not to be curious or wonder what’s inside, especially with C-SPAN’s friendly marketing team greeting every person as they walked by. It was interesting to hear the reactions of the people as two of the reps, Vanessa Torres and La’Shawna Saint-Preux, handed out Campaign 2016 buttons and answered questions from folks who inquired further about the network. The team is led by Marketing Manager Heath Neiderer.
From the people who have been long-time C-SPAN watchers, to the few who had never heard of it, many are often surprised to learn that the network is not government-funded. Supported entirely by cable, C-SPAN covers political events in their entirety and abstains from commentary. As co-CEO Susan Swain said to us in our interview earlier this week, “The idea here is not for people who are journalists interpreting for the public what’s important, but to allow people to see things for themselves.”
The bus itself is very inviting, as C-SPAN’s driver and marketing reps encourage visitors to come aboard as it travels around the country for the campaign trail. Inside the heated bus are touchscreens and digital displays for people to learn more about what C-SPAN offers, the latest on the campaign and a rolling studio for when an impromptu interview might take place. In fact, Republican candidate Dr. Ben Carson was interviewed aboard the bus during its stint in Manchester by a middle school student and reporter for Scholastic’s Kidspress. (The reporter was actually interviewing that day with C-SPAN’s morning show, Washington Journal). “During weeks like these on the road, we never know who may stop by our bus, so it’s pretty exciting when a presidential candidate comes aboard,” said Torres.
Torres herself is a product of C-SPAN’s outreach efforts to the public. Torres recounted the story of how she became a C-SPAN fan during her senior year in high school, when her government teacher used to turn it on every morning to inform the class about the upcoming 2008 election that year. Torres had her first encounter with the C-SPAN bus when it visited her school that year. “I thought it was really neat how C-SPAN covered congress and the campaign trail in a non-partisan way. After that I became a C-SPAN junkie,” she said.
In addition to its vast programming, C-SPAN devotes much of its energies to reaching students and voters and informing them about the democratic process. This public service element is best seen by the bus in action, as young kids step inside and get pulled into conversation by the bus team when they ask students what they’d like to hear about most from the candidates. While on the road, the bus team also performs short street interviews with people at the rallies, giving voters a chance to voice their views. The clips are often shared over the C-SPAN bus’s social media channels.
The bus has its own social media following, which speaks volumes given that many of C-SPAN’s core coverage remains the same as it did in 1979. The network has managed to evolve with the digital revolution and expand its outreach to accommodate audiences’ engagement preferences while staying true to its roots. The Twitter, Instagram and Snapchat accounts help people see where the bus is and how the network works with its cable affiliates around the country, explained Torres. One of the network’s Snapchat posts sent while in New Hampshire included a video of Governor John Kasich arriving at his campaign headquarters, and received 1.2 million views. And C-SPAN’s social media team wouldn’t be complete without the bus’s mascot, C-SPoT, whose adventures are broadcast via Instagram. The stuffed Dalmatian dog travels around the country with the bus team and is held by practically every visitor who comes aboard the bus.
I have to say, spending time with the C-SPAN bus team really did personify the network’s mission for me and made the overall campaign experience all the more tangible. From the team to C-SPoT to the comfortable atmosphere inside the bus, having that face-to-face interaction with the network is unique because I genuinely felt part of the coverage and the energetic vibe surrounding the campaign. And with a network like C-SPAN which encourages all viewpoints and perspectives to become engaged in the political process, you can’t go wrong. Their mission is timeless.