When producer/reporters Fernando Suarez, BA’01, and Eloise Harper, BS’02, started covering U.S. Sen. Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign last fall, they could have passed for contestants on the reality show The Amazing Race. Clinton flew around Iowa and the country on a chartered plane, while Suarez and Harper, working for competing television networks, dashed madly after her, patching together commercial flights and speeding down interstates in rented white Pontiacs, GPS units at the ready.
“We didn’t even have time to eat,” Suarez says. “It was all about beating Clinton to an event.”
The demands of a 24/7 news culture led the networks to assign “embedded” producers to this year’s presidential campaigns: young, off-air staffers charged with finding the news buried in the repetitive routine of stumping for votes. As the eyes and ears of their networks (he works for CBS, she for ABC), Suarez and Harper attended every event to which Clinton allowed press access, with laptops and video cameras in tow.
“We have to write and shoot and do radio,” Harper says, noting that this includes several blog entries a day. “We worry about all the platforms.”
The reporters’ logistics eased up once the campaign began organizing travel, food and lodging for the press corps, but the grueling schedule did not. When we tracked down Harper and Suarez in April, they were more than six months into a regimen of 12- to 20-hour workdays. Suarez had just one day free between late October and Super Tuesday in March.
“There are tough moments, but you realize there is nowhere else you’d rather be,” Suarez says. “We’ve been to more than 40 states, to so many corners and rural areas. It gives you an amazing picture of the country. There are so many different concerns that people have.”
Suarez and Harper, who knew each other at Vanderbilt, were delighted to meet up on the trail. Together with another young reporter from Fox, they logged the most time on the road with Clinton’s press corps. They developed such detailed knowledge of the campaign that they instantly recognize the smallest changes in rhetoric, message and mood.
Their cameras always at the ready, these reporters can catch unscripted moments that once never would have been recorded. Harper’s video of Clinton reacting to flags falling behind her after a press conference last November got hundreds of thousands of hits on ABC’s Web site.
Suarez hopes his experience encourages other Vanderbilt students who may have an interest in journalism.
“There’s no official journalism program at Vanderbilt, but you can do this,” Suarez says, crediting Professor Richard Pride’s class in political journalism with piquing his interest in the field.
Suarez went to work in journalism immediately after graduation. Harper spent her first year out as a financial analyst, but quickly realized she wanted to change careers. Both made quick progress at their networks, learning the ropes as bookers and fledgling producers. Now they are at the center of the political universe, helping to break stories that could affect the course of this country for years into the future.
Harper and Suarez are not sure what comes next. Having proved their skills, smarts and tenacity covering this historic election, both are poised for bright futures in broadcast journalism.
© 2015 Vanderbilt University
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