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CNN Producer Kate Albright-Hanna films former Dean campaign manager Joe Trippi in his office.  

Six months on the road with the Dean campaign

By Kate Albright-Hanna
CNN Producer

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- It was around 8 a.m., windy and 4 degrees when Dean campaign manager Joe Trippi and I made our six-block trek from the Hotel Fort Des Moines to campaign headquarters in Iowa about a week before the January 19, 2004, caucuses.

We'd been up until 3 a.m., and I was dragging behind, trying to keep my four-pound camcorder up in case Trippi said something brilliant or exploded with rage or danced a little jig or did anything that might become "the moment" that defined the behind-the-scenes documentary I was producing for CNN Presents.

The idea to follow campaign workers for months on end, at all hours was conceived in warmer weather in Washington, D.C. in July 2003. CNN wanted to document the experience of running a presidential campaign. At the time, the Dean campaign was on the rise with a blend of quirkiness, energy and interesting characters who weren't all career politicos. Trippi, the central character for the documentary, is a veteran of seven presidential campaigns, including Dean's.

Having worked for a company providing technology for Linux, the open-source operating system, Trippi liked the idea of an "open source" campaign and allowed me to record his day-to-day life on the trail with few limitations. Trippi felt that if Dean won, the documentary would be overshadowed by the excitement of victory, and if the campaign failed, people would want to know why it "crashed and burned."

Trippi is in his late 40s, suffers from diabetes and is fueled by a constant stream of Diet Pepsi. I am in my late 20s, have no known health problems, eat a lot of protein and find it hard to keep up with the man. I ask him how he does it, and he says something like, "I really believe I'm changing the world, and you're just following me. Journalists don't have to believe in anything. It's just a job to them."

It's a job, but it's also one of the strangest and most riveting experiences I've ever had: being completely plugged in and tethered to another human being for more than 400 hours of tape. From Dean's "Sleepless Summer Tour" in August 2003 until the New Hampshire primary and Trippi's departure at the end of January 2003, I neglected my own friends and family and immersed myself in all things Dean.

When I put on the arm brace, opened the LCD screen of my digital camera, and put in the earphones to monitor Trippi's wireless microphone, I became "RoboKate" -- more machine than human being. My goal was to be both as invisible and completely aware of what was happening in the space around me, which is almost like a form of meditation. Other documentary producers call it going into "the zone."

There are others - lots of us - covering this election with our small cameras in a way that's never been done before. Many veteran journalists think this is a bad thing because our technology invades the formerly private sphere of politico/journalist schmoozing, the down time that's necessary to establish trust between the two camps. I agree there's a cost. But I also believe there's a huge gain when digital video cameras capture the small, intimate moments. It breaks down some of the barriers that color-coordinated "JOBS JOBS JOBS" backdrops and well-lit pancake breakfasts have created between the media and political campaigns on the one hand, and the voters on the other.

Digital cameras have the potential to demystify the process, to show the human being behind the sound bite, the message, the live shot, the press conference, the whole infrastructure that packages and sells presidential candidates every four years. I and my co-producer, Nadia Kounang, tried to do that with "True Believers: Inside the Dean Campaign." Any success we had is owed to the people - especially campaign manager Joe Trippi, press secretary Tricia Enright and New Hampshire organizer David Gringer - who took a huge risk and opened their lives to us, a couple of journalists just doing a job.

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