Covered the debate between Meg Whitman and Jerry Brown the other night at Dominican University in San Rafael. Yea, somebody had to do it.

How do you photograph an event without really covering the meat of the action?

Carefully and with strings attached.

My experience with these types of large scale television productions is the limited amount of access for many, including local television stations.  Networks hold the key to TV land.  When the big three arrive, it seems to be their show and hold exclusive rights to the content nine times out of ten.

I’m not saying all of these happenings follow a script.  During any situation, unplanned things can and do happen.

When I covered the San Diego wildfires a few years ago, President Bush came in to visit firefighters in a staging area.  Unfortunately, I was not granted  the proper credentials in time, so I had to photograph on the periphery of the event.  There were Secret Service agents everywhere,  law enforcement and who knows what else.  It equaled a huge amount of firepower to protect the man from the Oval Office.  For whatever reason, President Bush ventured off his scripted route and met with firefighters just a few feet from where I had been shooed away too.  Everybody following him had to scramble including the Secret Service. Even though I wasn’t able to get in with the pool shooters following Mr. Bush around, I still managed a decent photo from his visit.  It was almost too easy.

For whatever reason, the debate between Brown and Whitman was pretty much a TV thing.  Two pool still photographers were allowed in to document the debate.  Rich Pedroncelli from the Associated Press and George Nikitin shooting for the university.

The rest of us PJ people were escorted into the theater as the gubernatorial candidates were introduced by Tom Brokaw.  We had about five minutes of full shooting and then were escorted out to a satellite building where we could file our pictures.  There were several tons of journalists all covering the event via live feed.

Photographers Justin Sullivan of Getty, left and Robert Galbraith of Reuters file their pictures from the gubernatorial debate, Tuesday Oct. 12, 2010. (Kent Porter / Press Democrat) 2010

Okay, it’s cool covering these events. witnessing history is better than reading it 10 years later in a book.

When the debate ended, both candidates made an appearance in the media center- that’s what I call it- their statements and a few questions from the press were short and to the point.  In five minutes of their individual appearances,  both were gone.

Television photographers wait for Meg Whitman and Jerry Brown in the media center. (Kent Porter / Press Democrat) 2010

I did get a pretty neat credential from the event though.

One last story.  During a meeting at the Jenner firehouse several years ago in response to the slaying of two young people on Blind Beach, a New York TV crew from one of the big three was sent to cover the meeting.  It was a very intimate setting and single bleacher was set up for residents attending the gathering.  The producer of the network crew didn’t like they way the everyone was seated.  Standing in front of the crowd, said producer requested that they all “scrunch together” to make it look like there were more people.

Everyone glared.

It was rather embarrassing and professionally frightening  for the other journalists covering the event.

Needless to say, the producer was read the journalistic riot act by a few of us that wanted to keep the story real and not scripted.


-Kent Porter