Jeff Tucker, the director of content services at Idaho Public Television, is a short guy with a salt-and-pepper colored beard and a tremendous amount of energy and enthusiasm. He sprints through the hallways of the Idaho Statehouse shouting out a friendly "Hello" to legislative staff, lobbyists, journalists and scores of others for whom the Capitol Building is a home-away-from-home for three—sometimes more—months out of the year.
Tucker gave Boise Weekly a tour of Idaho In Session's headquarters: a dark room in the basement of the Idaho Capitol that houses half a dozen editing bays. There part-time employees watch all the live feeds and, using joysticks, run 14 cameras throughout the Statehouse, including in the House and Senate chambers, the Lincoln Auditorium, a handful of committee rooms and the Idaho Supreme Court.
The footage is broadcast live on IdahoPTV and online. It's a job he loves.
How long have you been in public television?
A long time.
Mmm, since high school.
What is it that you do here exactly?
All we do [at Idaho In Session] is follow the ball. We don't editorialize, we won't shoot somebody rolling their eyes somewhere or leaving the floor—just who's talking. It's all neutral. This is raw. That's why it can be very boring sometimes but if you want to understand and know how the process works, you can follow a bill [from the] beginning all the way through to the end.
How does Idaho In Session work?
We operate under rules given to us by the Legislature. It costs [IDPTV] over $200,000 a year just to cover the Legislature. Another thing Idaho In Session does, we provide the media for other news organizations. We do pool coverage of the inauguration. Idaho In Session streams it, and we allow the rest of the media to get it. The State of the State and State of the Budget, that's our pool coverage. We're Switzerland, and we let other media take it.
Who runs the control boards?
It's a mix. Sometimes it's high-school and college students, or professionals looking for something else to do, or retirees looking for a part-time job.
It's different from the 30-second news package. You really have to get into it. Some people get too incensed with what's going on, instead of just sitting back and going, "OK, this is the political process, this is what it's about." It's fun to see the personalities come out.
Almost everyone who has come to work here has no political experience at all or real understanding of how the system works, and then they get exposed to it and then it really changes the way they look at government. A lot of times, they have a desire to be involved because they see there is a lot of local input in state politics. That's why we wish more people would watch.
Are we seeing everything that goes on in the legislative rooms equipped with cameras?
Some committees don't want their meetings streamed. It's an opt-out program. Last year, there was a sensitive issue involving Health and Welfare and a minor, and they were having a committee hearing about it. The committee chairman deemed it wasn't appropriate for the committee to be streamed anywhere. They just wanted to keep it in that room. It was still a public meeting, and the public was still invited, but they didn't stream.
We actually get a lot of calls when something isn't streamed because it's weird when it's not. People expect everything to be streamed from here. But it's not that there's any nefarious activity going on.
Can you tell how many people are viewing at a time?
Yes. [During the "Add the Words" bill hearing on Jan. 27], we had 5,000 pageviews. That's high traffic for Idaho In Session. We get about 100,000 pageviews in a year.
Can you tell where people are watching from?
A lot of internal state government. We joke—I think we've saved the state a lot of money because people don't leave their desks to come to the meetings. They stay and listen to it and still work. We have a large number of state workers from all over the state [who stream Idaho in Session live]. Usually about a third of people streaming online are outside of state government, two-thirds are in. When it's really inside baseball, it's usually just specific agencies watching.
Since you're immersed in this Statehouse footage, do you think you're one of the more in-tune people when it comes to Idaho politics?
No, no, not at all. There's so much going on, but the process is really interesting.
It's not a football game, right? That's the problem with national politics: It's becoming ESPN-ified, where you have commentators and you pick sides and you root for your sides. I don't think it should be a football game. It's going to be messy and muddy like a football game but for the most part, once a bill is passed, there had to be a lot of thought put into that.
What comes out you might not like, but there was a lot of thought that went into it. That's the one thing you get to see when you listen. If you have the patience to watch a bill all the way through, you understand that more.