Reports from the Campaign Trail

Peoria native and POLITICO reporter, Reid Epstein, left, talks about life on the presidential campaign trail.

By Frank Radosevich II
November 30, 2012

The most important thing Reid Epstein said he learned in college was the ability to operate without much sleep.

Though his comment was tongue-in-cheek, Epstein, a reporter for the online news outlet POLITICO, said a good night’s rest was a rare commodity on the campaign trail. Epstein covered the 2012 presidential election — a long and, at times, exhausting job for journalists who crisscrossed the country for weeks at a time.

“There were many days where the campaign bus was leaving at 6 a.m. and you weren’t getting in until after midnight,” Epstein told an audience at Westlake Hall. “On the Monday before the election, we started at 7:30 a.m. in Madison (Wisconsin) and ended the day at a quarter to three (the next morning) in Chicago.”

By his own account, Epstein traveled to 33 states during a span of 15 months. In the last year alone he transited through 77 airports.

Epstein, a Peoria native, met and spoke to Bradley students about his coverage of the Republican presidential primaries and the general presidential election. During the final six months of the campaign season, he covered what would eventually be President Barack Obama’s re-election bid.

Students said his talk gave them a deeper understanding of how political journalists operate and what challenges they deal with while gathering the news.

“It was really interesting to see another side of journalism than just the finished product,” said Tim Belter, a senior studying journalism.

Epstein described to students the progression of the campaign from small, informal gatherings in backyards during the Republican primaries to massive, carefully staged events during the closing days of the general election. He also shared some behind-the-scenes stories, like how reporters riding on a plane with Mitt Romney’s campaign would write interview requests on an orange and roll the piece of fruit to the front of the aircraft in the hopes of it reaching the Republican candidate.

Freshman biology major Samantha Koop said, as a first time voter this year, she enjoyed hearing anecdotes from the campaign trail.

“I learned a lot about presidential campaigns and politics that I didn’t know before,” she said. “I think most people my age go off of what our parents say and we don’t really think too much about what goes on in them.”

Though now based in Washington, D.C., Epstein began his reporting career at the Peoria Journal Star newspaper where he worked during summer and winter breaks from college. He said journalism basics, like interviewing, writing and developing relationships with sources, are skills that students can learn at any news outlet and use for their entire career.

For students interested in breaking into the news industry, his advice was simple: write, write and write.