By Chris Adams
“Being an embed is the best experience that I would never do again,” said Liz Landers, a reporter for CNN who covered the 2016 campaign, focusing on Sen. Bernie Sanders, the Vermont independent running for president as a Democrat, and then Mike Pence, the Republican Indiana governor who became vice president.
Landers (bio, Twitter) described the all-consuming role of being a campaign embed, a term applied to the political reporters attaching themselves to a campaign, day-in, day-out, from the earliest stops in Iowa and New Hampshire to the conventions and Election Day.
Sometimes the reporters travel with candidates, sometimes they make their own arrangements. But one constant is that they are always there, cameras and recorders up, catching every scrap of information they can.
“I gave up my place in D.C. I put everything in storage,” Landers said. “I gave up my life in D.C. I lost any sense of ever being here.”
Landers and two other 2016 embeds shared their experiences with National Press Foundation Paul Miller fellows. Monica Alba of NBC (bio, Twitter) and Jill Colvin of The Associated Press (bio, Twitter) told stories about missed planes and broken laptops and cameras. (Colvin’s role as a print scribe was different than that of Alba and Landers; although the term “embeds” is generally reserved for the broadcast world, print outlets also deploy reporters who travel with candidates and follow them day-to-day.)
After the 2016 experiences, all three went on to other political assignments: Landers covering Congress, Alba and Colvin the White House.
Speed and accuracy is paramount on the job, as the reporters covered events and filed clean copy that could be put online instantly. They needed to be technically proficient. They needed to be in good shape – lugging around 50 pounds of electronic gear and setting it up multiple times a day. The television embeds needed to be versatile, feeding colleagues on multiple network shows throughout the day.
They were always on the clock, and always on the go.
It’s a job generally for younger reporters because it requires an extreme level of sacrifice. In 2016, Alba was 27 years old and on the older end of the embeds on the trail, she said.
“It has to fit at a unique time in your life,” Alba said, “and you have to be ready to surrender yourself to it.”