Covering the Coverage: Following C-SPAN on the Campaign Trail
Politics is a little bit like baseball: long stretches of time where seemingly nothing happens punctuated by extreme moments of panic and harried action; small, calculated decisions and acutely prioritized efforts that eventually add up to a win or a loss that could, at any, moment go either way. Where they differ is timing. Baseball can in theory go on forever, where in politics a time must come for voters to vote and the event to be over.
NCTA joined C-SPAN earlier this week as they covered the “First-in-the-Nation” New Hampshire Primary. We joined because we wanted to better understand what, both from a technical and from an intellectual standpoint, went into a presidential election broadcast. We wanted to know how C-SPAN orchestrates a remote live broadcast, how journalists conduct hard-to-get interviews, and what role community and voter outreach plays in promoting C-SPAN programming. Essentially, we wanted to know how C-SPAN, known for long-format uninterrupted un-editorialized content, approaches covering a seven-day political event with over a dozen candidates stretched across twenty cities.
“Over 40 C-SPAN staff were in attendance, all to deliver what is essentially the public service of continual coverage of the Democratic process.”
Thanks to our hosts, we were treated to an incredible spectacle of preparedness, professionalism, dedication, and technology. Over 40 C-SPAN staff were in attendance, all to deliver what is essentially the public service of continual coverage of the Democratic process. Not only is this important to Americans as a tool to learn more about candidates and important issues, but it also serves as a beacon to the entire world, saying “This is how America does it. Laid bare and without spin, this is how we pick a President.” The C-SPAN website, c-span.org, is proof of this, housing practically every inch of film from Capitol Hill and beyond over the last 35 years for anyone in the world to access.
The two days we joined C-SPAN were filled with electricity and enthusiasm. We watched the team hit tight deadlines under razor-thin margins. Pile on some serious winter weather and a political season already known for last-second twists and turns, and the 48 hours felt remarkably short and action-packed. We observed live coverage of a John Kasich rally, a one-on-one interview with Donald Trump, a Marco Rubio Super Bowl party, and the C-SPAN bus crisscrossing the state, reaching out to everyday voters and informing about the political process. Something we kept noticing was how many people didn’t realize C-SPAN wasn’t a tax-funded “government channel,” but a service provided by cable affiliates across the country. The vision of C-SPAN was, and remains, a public service that offers audiences gavel-to-gavel coverage of public policy events where decisions are being made and issues are being debated, all provided commercial free by cable.
Along with us on our trip was a film crew, documenting the feat of covering the New Hampshire primary. Our goal is to produce a short film that both details the exceptional effort that goes into broadcasting a primary and also takes a deeper look into the role unbroken coverage plays in educating voters and promoting a better understanding of American politics. We look forward to sharing the film with you in the coming weeks.
This is all to say that our visit with C-SPAN was an important reminder of what it is cable provides America. The diversity in programming we offer is marvelous and the broadband Internet we deploy has been one of the most important technological efforts in America since running water, but it’s what those services deliver that matters. It’s the windows to the world that the Internet and television bring that makes our lives richer and more productive.
Politics might be a lot like baseball, but covering politics is an entirely unique sport of it’s own. C-SPAN is the original and only resource for unobstructed, pundit-free political programming. We are so proud to be able to show off what C-SPAN did this week and what they’ve been doing for the last three decades.