Editorializer Interview #4: Behind the scene of US elections coverage by David Millikin

David Millikin, AFP’s Director for North America.

David Millikin has been a journalist and foreign correspondent for more than 30 years, working in Europe, the Middle East, Asia and the Pacific. Much of this career has been with AFP, one of the world’s largest international news organizations. He is currently AFP’s Director for North America, running the agency’s operations in the United States, Canada and the Caribbean.

“We have mobilized our full US staff of 100+ journalists to cover this exceptional election campaign”

How afp is covering the current US presidential election? How will you cover the D day?

We have mobilized our full US staff of 100+ journalists to cover this exceptional election campaign since the first primary caucuses and votes at the beginning of the year. Multimedia teams of text, photo and video reporters have crisscrossed the country, both covering candidates’ campaigns and events and producing content packages about key issues at stake — from a series of multimedia stories about immigration along the southern border to packages on white working class voters in the rustbelt states of Ohio and Pennsylvania and on the black vote across the south. Since the national political conventions over the summer we have frequently embedded reporters with the two main parties’ candidates, and will travel with them through election day. On November 8, we will have reporters visiting voting stations from New Hampshire to San Francisco, while our main editorial center in Washington will collate and report on results throughout the night. We will also have big teams at both candidates’ election night headquarters providing live streaming video, photos and reporting as the final results come in.

AFP is one the very few news organizations to be embedded with the US President on his travels. Has that access impacted how you have been able to cover the presidential election campaign?

Yes. As a long-standing member of what is called the ‘protective pool’ for the president, AFP has an important role within the Washington press corps and notably in the White House Correspondents’ Association, which takes a leading role in organizing pool coverage of the main presidential candidates. AFP text and photo reporters have contributed to pool coverage of both candidates, and has traveled regularly on the plane with Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton. Republican Donald Trump has broken with tradition by not agreeing to have a protective pool travel with him. AFP will also be part of the pool created to follow the transition to the new presidency by the winner on November 8, until Inauguration Day on January 20.

What has changed over time in the way the US presidency is covered?
AFP has had dedicated text and photo reporters covering the White House for decades, and while our commitment to providing daily coverage of the president has not changed, the way individual presidents deal with the press varies greatly. President Obama has tightly controlled traditional media access in the White House, frequently choosing to get his message out directly via social media and giving priority for personal interviews to new and non-traditional media. We have little idea how a new Clinton or a Trump White House will deal with the press, though there are indications neither will be particularly easy to cover.

What afp photo would illustrate the best the US elections time?

US Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton greets supporters during a campaign rally at the Pasco-Hernando State College in Dade City, Florida, on November 1, 2016. AFP/JEWEL SAMAD
US Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump addresses supporters at Macomb Community College on October 31, 2016 in Warren, Michigan. AFP/JEFF KOWALSKY