Over the intervening years, Kelley has mostly stuck around at C-SPAN, and now holds the title of assignment desk manager. And in the coming weeks, there’ll be a lot of assigning to do. First come hearings before the House Intelligence Committee, which kick off on Wednesday morning. Then there’ll be further proceedings with the House Judiciary Committee, and so on. “I didn’t think I’d be doing it again 21 years later,” says Kelley.
The hours and hours of coverage go straight to the core mission of C-SPAN, the studiously neutral public-affairs channel that’s funded by the cable industry. When you see clips of congressional hearings on CNN, MSNBC, Fox News and other networks, you are, in effect, watching C-SPAN. That’s because the operation provides “pool” coverage of congressional hearings and other Capitol Hill goings-on to the networks; in return, it gets pool coverage of other official events from broadcasters — say, footage of President Trump taking questions from reporters after a North Korea summit.
A ho-hum congressional hearing usually features three cameras — one head-on camera for the chair; one for the witness; and another side camera for the committee members. There will be no standard operating procedure come Wednesday morning, however. According to Kelley, C-SPAN will have seven cameras around the hearing room — two cameras for the chair and other members; two cameras for either side; one witness camera; and two high and wide cameras for that panoramic look. The additional cameras, says Kelley, will enable C-SPAN to “better capture the interaction among everybody” in the room.
Workforce requirements also escalate, as C-SPAN will be using 12 employees to manage all the angles, as opposed to the four or five for an average hearing. And in anticipation of marathon sessions, Kelley is rotating two shifts into the job.
The House Radio-Television Correspondents’ Gallery, says Kelley, helped C-SPAN set up negotiations with the intelligence committee to pack in more cameras for the impeachment hearings. “They were absolutely in favor of it,” says Kelley, noting that C-SPAN had to negotiate over positioning, but got all seven desired cameras. “They understood that this was a moment in history that needed proper coverage,” he says. The committee understood C-SPAN’s insistence that both sides of what will certainly be a stark partisan committee divide needed equal camera coverage, says Kelley.
Like any organization’s editorial decisions, C-SPAN’s carry trade-offs. “There are two or three really good hearings that we aren’t going to be able to cover,” says Kelley, sounding a bit pained about the coverage holes. Like a two-decade C-SPAN veteran.