By: Joe Strupp
With the strictest security ever for a presidential inauguration, the largest one-day crowd of visitors likely in Washington history, and 24-hour Internet coverage leading the way, numerous D.C. reporters are planning to camp out in their offices the night before Barack Obama is sworn in on Jan. 20.
“I am 57 years old and this is my first slumber party,” said Jack Torry of the Columbus Dispatch, who said at least a dozen others in the Cox Bureau, where he leases space, are planning to stay. “We’ve got popcorn, sleeping bags and people will be bringing beer Monday night. It will be a real slumber party.”
Editors and reporters at some bureaus say the unusual act of closing all bridges into town on Tuesday and emptying parking garages for blocks around the parade route the night before has made it more practical to spend the night in the bureau.
“Some people are planning to overnight in their offices,” said John Walcott, McClatchy D.C. bureau chief, who adds that at least 60 out-of-town McClatchy staffers will come into cover the events. “People are coming from around the country and some are shipping sleeping bags….
“I have never seen this kind of security,” said Walcott, who has worked in Washington since 1975. “It is a combination of 9/11 and the number of people.”
The key element is the shutdown of bridges from Virginia and some parts of the southeast border. Walcott adds that the parking garage for his building is one of many that will be closed starting Monday.
Concerns about the impact on cell phone connections has even prompted Walcott to bring in six satellite phones from foreign bureaus just in case communications get jammed. “It is possible,” he said.
At the Tribune bureau, which houses staffers for all Tribune papers, including the Los Angeles Times and Chicago Tribune, a group of staffers is already staking out space for air mattresses. “There are people who are going to do it,” said Frank James, a Tribune blogger for the popular “The Swamp” site and a 12-year D.C. scribe. “It is going to be the most locked down event since I have been here.”
Among those likely camping out is Jim Tankersley, a Tribune reporter who lives in Virginia but has air mattress space picked out. “Knowing that you are able to get in and that no big transportation clog is going to stop you from reporting the story is important,” he said.
At the Hearst bureau, which is located in the same building as McClatchy’s office, Bureau Chief Charles Lewis has his air mattress ready. “I am pretty much able to sleep on anything,” he said, adding that having staffers stay overnight is rare. “It is extremely unusual. Even on 9/11, I think most people staggered home late.”
Lewis said his bureau, which also provides space for Hearst’s San Francisco Chronicle, San Antonio Express-News and Houston Chronicle staffers, will be hosting additional out-of-towners, some also likely to spend the night. “We have arranged for sleeping bags and air mattresses for some of them,” he said. “A lot of people are coming here for other papers.”
Another group of overnighters are the bureaus located in the National Press Building, which sits along 14th Street, just a block from Pennsylvania Avenue. The building holds office space for numerous one- and two-person news outlets. Among them is The Plain Dealer of Cleveland, where reporter Sabrina Eaton is expected to stay.
“I was thinking of bringing a sleeping bag to my office,” she said. “The press club has showers and an exercise facility. I am also supposed to cover parties the night before and blog. I am anticipating a lot of logistical difficulties getting around town.”