As an aspiring young journalist, friends and family members are constantly joking around, saying things such as, “Oh, one day you’ll be interviewing celebrities” or “Pretty soon you’ll be writing about the president.”
Although they’re usually half-joking, sometimes it can actually happen. It happened to me. I got the chance to do something young reporters everywhere dream of: cover a public address of the President of the United States of America.
As part of my masters program in journalism at the University of Western Ontario, I recently completed a one-month internship at a media outlet. I chose to intern at Pinellas News, a weekly community paper located in St. Petersburg, Florida. I wanted to start off small at a place where I could get as much experience and get as many quality clippings as possible.
I also thought I should take the opportunity to venture outside my comfort zone and country borders to experience working as a journalist in a foreign environment.
On Jan. 28, President Barack Obama and Vice-President Joe Biden held a town hall meeting at the University of Tampa. The purpose was to announce plans to fund a high-speed rail project that would go from Tampa to Orlando, and eventually connect with Miami. If you want to read the story, here it is.
Here is a rundown of how the day went:
The White House Media Office had confirmed our attendance the day before and told us we had to arrive at the venue between 7 and 8 a.m., to check in our equipment. We arrived shortly after 7 a.m., and the place was already buzzing with TV trucks, cameramen, photographers, reporters, White House staff and the secret service.
After we claimed a spot in the media area, we left the building for two hours so the secret service and their staff could sweep the building before the presidential appearance to ensure everything was safe and secure.
When the building was finally deemed secure, we were allowed back in. We checked in and were given official White House Press passes after going through the metal detectors. The place was already filling up with people who had lined up for hours the day before to get a ticket, and it was only just past 10 a.m.
The event was expected to begin at 12: 30 p.m., but it was delayed until about 1:30 p.m. for unannounced reasons. There was nothing to do but wait. We couldn’t leave the building, but luckily there was a room full of reporters for me to make friends with, as well as some local officials I recognized to interview before the main event.
Right before everything started, about a dozen professionally-dressed, serious-looking men and women with laptop bags and BlackBerrys walked in. They were the White House Media Correspondents who had their own reserved area in the room and even received a catered lunch (which they hardly touched). I’m not sure what they were doing, but some of them seemed to be transcribing everything Obama and Biden were saying, while others looked like they were uploading text into some sort of a newswire service.
When it was all over, they got back on the plane with the President and went back to Washington. (I aspire to be one of them some day.)
We pledged allegiance to the flag, sang the American national anthem, and then Joe Biden came onstage. He talked a bit about creating jobs and restoring America, and then he introduced Barack Obama.
The entire room erupted into cheers and screams as Obama came in and shook hands with the people sitting in the front rows. It was like the Jonas Brothers just walked into an all-girls high school.
Now it was time to get to work. I was crammed between so many other reporters that there was really no room for me to type on my laptop, so I went with the good old fashioned notebook to get down all the main points of the speech.
In between taking photos and video footage on my Flip video camera, I did some tweeting about the event. Half way through the talk, my pen fell under the bleachers (uh oh). It could have been a big problem, but thanks to modern miracles, I was able to frantically type notes into my BlackBerry and email them to myself (phew!).
By 3 p.m., it was all over and Obama had left the building. The public cleared out but many of the reporters, including me, stayed behind to send images and text back to the newsroom.
I was awake a for over 12 hours, I was mentally and physically drained, but still running on the adrenaline of the day. Had I really been 50 feet away from the President, among White House staff, New York Times writers and CNN reporters? Yes, I was, and I have the pictures and story to prove it.