Monday, March 26, 2012

Ron Paul, a unique assignment

Adam Niemi/Central Michigan Life
Republican presidential candidate Ron Paul, R-Texas, delivers a speech to a capacity crowd in Plachta Auditorium at Warriner Hall on Feb. 25.

In my short time as a photojournalist, few assignments were as captivating as covering Ron Paul's speech in Plachta Auditorium on Feb. 25. Many people have asked me how it was to cover a nationally relevant event.

The outstanding reason I was afforded the opportunity, was because many of my colleagues, photographers, at Central Michigan Life were at a Michigan Press Photographers Association conference in Lansing. I was one of two staff photographers on campus for the whole weekend. Chuck Miller was the other photographer. The Ron Paul assignment was one of about five assignments I shot photos of over the course of the weekend. Chuck also had a busy workload.

About two hours before the scheduled speech, I met with my editors and fellow reporters. We discussed the angles to cover, the kinds of people to look for and what to tell security if we weren't allowed into the auditorium. We were promised access, but in journalism, promises don't always pan out. This was the biggest event all year on campus, we could not leave it filled with regret.

Even before the assignment was given to me, I had this idea of what an image would look like from behind Paul, as he faces the crowd. When I was given the assignment, I was given the opportunity to achieve that image.

People chanted and cheered and the filling auditorium was making my suit uncomfortable. About 100 people stood outside the doors to the auditorium and crooned to watch Paul deliver his speech. A line of former military servicemen stood behind Paul, across the stage. Everybody there to watch Paul was still and quiet. I was one of a handful of photographers making all the noise, the clicking of the camera, and moving around to get the shot. I took all the "safety" photos I needed, photos that are taken just for the sake of photos, nothing spectacular. My focus was on each image I shot, but my motivation was the image I hadn't taken.

I approached a CMU police officer at the side of the stage. I told him I needed a shot from the back of the stage, facing the crowd. He tapped one of Paul's traveling security guards. He said, "Get all the photos you need, but get out of there as soon as you finish."

I walked behind the former military servicemen to the middle of the stage. I looked through my lens and made the adjustments for light and  shutter speed. I saw what I'd imagined. I snapped image after image. It's a once-in-a-lifetime image of a presidential candidate, albeit a hopeful long-shot. We all knew this man may not ever win the presidency, but not many people can say they have covered a presidential candidate on the campaign trail.

After shooting photos of Paul in the media gathering backstage, Chuck and I headed back to the newsroom.

I was surprised by the efficiency, with both writing and photo, from the time our notes and photos were digested, to the time of publishing. Chuck and I had our top ten photos toned and captioned less than an hour after the speech.

Our coverage was well-viewed. It was featured as a top news result for Ron Paul on Google News. For the fleeting news cycles that exist in online journalism, our coverage held its own with national publications. Apart from people posting my photo on their sites without providing a photo credit, I'm happy to see the hard work rewarded with widespread dissemination and readership.

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