CNN reporting from the rails

Cameraman Christian Streib, executive producer Ryan Cooper and presenter Richard Quest

When CNN International started thinking about how to cover American Quest, a series that has run in the lead up to every US presidential election since 2004, the team decided to travel across the country by train, finding and filming stories on route.

The train became a mobile newsroom, with technology allowing the team to shoot footage on an iPad and file it using 4G technology, blog and share regular updates via Twitter.

Journalism.co.uk takes a look at how the team created a newsroom on the rails.

When the CNN International team started thinking about how to go from story to story on this year's American Quest, the journalists spotted a route operated by Amtrak called the California Zephyr, which starts in Chicago and ends in San Francisco. The journey takes 51 hours and 20 minutes, but the team, consisting of presenter Richard Quest, a cameraman, producer and PR, made several stops on route to gather stories.

"We thought it would be interesting to do a train journey, kind of like the old whistle-stop tour candidates used to take going back to the 1900s," Ryan Cooper, executive producer, CNN International told Journalism.co.uk.

"We also noticed in one of Amtrak's old publicity brochures that they said when presidential candidates wanted to get somewhere quickly they would take an aeroplane, when they want to make a statement they would take a train."

CNN Zephyr route
The California Zephyr route

The CNN team decided they wanted to "make a statement" of their own and were struck by the California Zephyr route.

"It stuck out for us for several reasons," Cooper said. "It starts in Chicago, which is the natural starting point because that is where President Obama's adult home town is and it's where his faithful are."

The route then goes through Iowa and Colorado, both swing states, and then through Utah. "That was another natural turning point, because that state is very heavily Mormon, which Mitt Romney of course is."

The journey ended in San Francisco, which in Cooper's view, is "one of the most beautiful, picturesque cities in America".

It was delightful journey, but it was also a great train trip because it took us through so many potential stories, and so many of the touchstones in this electionRyan Cooper
"It was delightful journey, but it was also a great train trip because it took us through so many potential stories, and so many of the touchstones in this election."

The team left on Friday 12 October, arriving in San Francisco on Wednesday 17 October.

"This is the third series of American Quest that I have produced with Richard [Quest]," Cooper said. "We started in 2004, and looking back on all three, this one is really marked by how technology has changed and advanced in the last few years."

The team had a 'family bedroom' with a seat that makes into a bed, plus Quest had a 'roomette', a smaller room with two seats facing each other.

"You can actually get your work done while you are travelling," Cooper said. "If you are in a car or on a plane, you are in a space that is limited or you only have a short journey and you are at the next place. You are on the train for several hours and you can really get things done."

CNN American Quest Richard Quest
Richard Quest reporting on the rails

While cameraman Christian Streib was capturing the "gorgeous scenery with a tiny GoPro camera suction cupped to the side of the train", Cooper used the standard video recording app on his iPad to shoot 'teases' with Quest and email the files to the producer in London for broadcast an hour or so later. They were helped by a 3G connection and, in some places LTE or 4G, which was "in many ways is faster than your standard home wifi system".

The team blogged and tweeted using #americanquest, so the "online component was happening in real-time", using technology that has moved on a great deal since 2004.

American Quest will be broadcast at 7pm every evening this week on CNN International. A special highlights programme can be seen on Saturday 3 November at 10pm and on Sunday 4 November at 10.30pm.

Images courtesy of CNN International.

Free daily newsletter

If you like our news and feature articles, you can sign up to receive our free daily (Mon-Fri) email newsletter (mobile friendly).

blog comments powered by Disqus