election night in america

I had the privilege of being a part of the Tribune’s team coverage Tuesday night, an event I’ve wanted to cover since I moved to Chicago in 2009 soon after the big Grant Park celebration of President Obama’s first election.

My role was great, joining the White House press corps for the day with several reporters and photographers from AP, Reuters, AFP and the New York Times. The group does this year-round, trailing the President on the campaign trail with 20+ hour days for weeks now. I mainly tried to stay out of the way and keep from getting yelled at.

Our day started at 6 a.m., and the rest of the pool was exhausted having arrived at 2 a.m. from a rally in Iowa the night before. We went through our initial security sweep for the day and joined the Presidential motorcade where it sits outside of his Kenwood home waiting for him to begin his day. His first stop was a campaign office in Hyde Park where he greeted volunteers and made phone calls to Wisconsin. After just a few minutes our wranglers ushered us back out the door into the van where we quickly sent a few images.

And then for the next 14 hours or so we never saw the President, although we were never more than a few car lengths or rooms apart. The traveling pool of the press corps is always there in case anything unexpected happens and to report on each stop he makes, but on this day he did nothing else in public. We sat together in the van outside of hotel rooms, his house and his afternoon basketball game. At least they brought us pizza.

As the night dragged on we were pretty dependent on Twitter and web surfing to know what was going on with the election. Although undoubtably the Obama team inside the Fairmont Hotel knew far more about the returns, we didn’t know anything beyond media reports until the race was called about 10:13pm. We expected to be on the move to the McCormick Place celebration event shortly after that, but evidently Mitt Romney wasn’t ready to concede and we sat for two more hours.

The motorcade moved quickly to McCormick around 12:20am Wednesday, and when it slowed we ran through the crowd and into the buffer space we were allotted in front of the stage. We only had a few minutes to get a sense of the lighting and the direction the President would walk out from before he appeared with his family through the curtain at 12:36am (pieced together from my camera timestamps). A minute later they were waving from the front of the stage, and at about 12:37:30 there’s a 20-second break in my shooting where I looked down to find the two cleanest frames to transmit where all four faces were visible, happy and not blocked by things like the teleprompter stands.

In a great stroke of luck, the images flew right off my camera and were FTP’d back to the Tribune through my Verizon data card. In a crowd situation, we often can’t get a strong enough cell signal, and there was no time to test it. We had a plan for me to plug into an ethernet line just behind me on a camera riser where my colleague Scott Strazzante was shooting as soon as the speech ended, but with the lateness of the speech there was no chance to do this. By 12:38am those first couple images were back at the Tribune, and luckily I’d found something in focus because the images were immediately re-plated onto the front page and out the door to the press in moments.

Once I knew the images had actually made it back I could begin to appreciate what an amazing position I was in. Standing feet between a re-elected U.S. President and a screaming crowd, covered in red, white and blue confetti while Springsteen blared. It’s a moment I’ll never forget.

More great images from the Tribune staff in the building and all over the city are HERE.

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