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April 18, 2012

Girls on the Bus

Out on the campaign trail, the major candidates may all be dudes — but behind the camera, it's very much the Year of the Woman.

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THEY'RE KNOWN AS "EMBEDS" — the political reporters who follow (and tweet and blog) the presidential candidates' every last move, crisscross the country, live out of suitcases, and rarely get home for months at a time. Historically, young men have held these coveted jobs, made famous by the 1973 book The Boys on the Bus. But on the trail in 2012, there are more female embeds than ever—most in their 20s and early 30s. Among the TV networks alone, Fox News, ABC, and CBS have more women on the ground than men, while CNN and NBC have an equal number of male and female embeds.

So what's it like to spend your every waking minute with those vying to be leader of the free world? These reporters slowed down long enough to give us the scoop on one of the most exciting, grueling jobs of the moment.

SARAH BOXER, 26, CBS News/National Journal
Follow her: @SarahB_CBSNJ
On the road since: August 2011

Professional coup: The best moments are always when you break news—no question. Early on, I found out that Mitt Romney had opened a headquarters office in Iowa—essentially in the dark of night—when it was still unclear if he was going to make a play for that state, which he had painfully lost in 2008. The more I dug, the more I was able to reveal the campaign's strategy of fanning out a major ground game in Iowa, which no one had really reported on yet. It was a huge get.

Most stressful moment: I was shooting a last-minute interview with Romney on his bus, and as I was rushing to feed the footage back to CBS, I accidentally stepped on his iPad! Knowing that he does everything on it, from writing speeches to reading Scripture to playing Angry Birds, my heart dropped. He was actually very gracious. "Sarah?" he said. "Your footprint is on my iPad." I wanted to hit my personal delete button.

Insider gossip: Romney gushes about his wife all the time, calling her "my sweetheart" and reminiscing about how they met when she was in second grade and he was in fourth. She reads over his shoulder on plane rides, bakes Welsh cookies for staff, and does laundry with him at hotels.

On staying healthy (or not): I get a fantastic 15-minute workout closing my suitcase every morning.

What I've learned: Always be present. It might be easy to go on autopilot when you've heard the same speech a hundred times, haven't slept in months, or feel like there's no real news that may possibly come out of an event. Nevertheless, you are there for the viewers. They can't be there, but you can. So you have to be fully present in order to serve them best. And never underestimate the value of even the smallest morsels of news you might catch from being on the ground—there's always something below the surface.

 


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