Covering a visit from the POTUS

Press at Obama Nanotech.jpg

Waiting for President Obama

By AOA Mary

Hey, guess what? The president was in town today.

And, yes, I got to go to the event. And yes, I was excited about that. I was excited about what a presidential visit says about what's happening in the Capital Region, excited that the leader of the free world thinks this is an important place to visit, and excited that I got to hear him speak in person.

But I was a little less excited than I was the first time I covered a presidential visit -- and that's no reflection on the president. This is the third time President Obama has visited the Capital Region, and the second time I've covered his visit.

What's it like to cover a presidential visit? It's a compelling (not) story of press releases, protocol, twitter, 4G frustration, porto-potties, and hurry up and wait.

Here's how it goes...

Keep your schedule clear
You don't really know you're going to the event until the night before. You, or your editor, apply for credentials via email. The White House will send you an email letting you know you're cleared. For today's visit, I found out last night.

Arrive early
You get there early. At least you do if you are a neurotic type A producer who is sure you're going to miss the bus or lose your way or have to explain something about your sordid past to the Secret Service.

Seriously, if the TSA worked more like the Secret Service, I'd be much happier to fly. Security at both presidential visits I covered moved incredibly smoothly. Reporters check in, show their IDs, go through a quick bag search and a metal detector, and they're done. Most of the media folks I talked with expected more hoops, or at least a bigger show. It's a very low-key, non-threatening environment -- except for the big German Shepherd I'm guessing could taken out my liver on command.

You're all covering the same thing
Sometimes arriving early is profitable. Like the time I bumped into the president of HVCC carrying a swag bag for POTUS which contained a Michelle Obama bobble head. Hello, Twitter -- a scoop. Yep, that constitutes a scoop at one of these events. Why?

There were more than 120 members of the media covering today's presidential visit. The media like to tell stories. It's what we do professionally, but for many of us, it's a motivating force. The problem is that we're all there to cover the same story. And the story doesn't really start until the president shows up. Today that was nearly five hours after we began to show up. So once everyone arrives and gets their cameras set up on risers and finds outlets and visits with friends they haven't seen since the last big press conference, we start looking for stories. And now we have Twitter and Facebook and Instagram to play with so people can get an even better idea of what things are like "behind the scenes." Sometimes that means an interview with a politician or local leader or a human interest sidebar on the kid who came to cover the visit from Scholastic. Sometime it means jokes about the porto-potties at NanoTech and pictures of the menu at the nano cafe.

Still, there's a buzz in the air. It's exciting. The president will be there soon.

Politicians and other dignitaries file in and sometimes they'll grant an interview, but is anyone likely to say anything earth shaking at a presidential press conference? Probably not.

Most of them will tell you how excited they are to be there and how excited they are about the president coming and how excited they are by what he has to say. And remember, there are more than 120 of us and we're all interviewing the same people.

The gallery
There are areas cordoned off for the local media, risers for video cameras and photographers. Often the national reporters will get a spot that's closer, and the White House press pool gets the closest. People come in and scramble for a good space and power strips.

Oddly, at least in the Capital Region, media organizations that are so publicly competitive are collegial and even helpful to each other at events like this. "Here's an outlet you can use." "Try my Hotspot password." Events like this seem to bring out the best in journalists. At least in Capital Region journalists.

Reporters wander around Tweeting and Facebooking and looking for interviews until suddenly the wi-fi goes down -- or there are so many people on the 4G that you can't get a signal and you have to resort to things like paper and pens. Noo!

We're limited to the press area, which is not a pen or anything, but, at least in my experience, it separates us from a lot of the people we might want to talk with. It's kind of a weird feeling. We're led to our places on the risers or in the press area and we're shown what people want us to see so we'll tell other people -- but don't get too close. There is no malice. Everyone is very nice about it. We can call to people on the inside, or catch them on the way in or out. But we can't go in.

False starts
People come out and adjust things on the podium. They get applause. Then everyone realizes it's just the guy adjusting things on the podium. And everyone laughs.

The speech
The moment we're all gathered for finally arrives. We listen through the click of cameras. We tweet, we take notes furiously. After seeing the president or governor on TV and on the web so many times, even though it's real life, it feels a little like it's recorded. It's weird. When the speech ends we either scramble to find folks for comment or scramble to computers to file our stories.

At the end of the day
I get to do a lot of interesting things as a journalist. It can be an exciting job. You get to meet fascinating people and tell wonderful stories and you get access to things you might otherwise just hear about from others.

And sometimes, if you're lucky, you get to be in the same room as the President of the United States. If that happens, you'll tell your family and friends. You'll tweet photos of the day. You'll keep your press badge as a memento. You may even count it as one of your more exciting days. But you probably won't count it among your most useful.


FWIW, the local television stations running commentary today would have you believe soon Albany's streets will be paved with gold. Optimism is great, but come on.

I was deeply cynical about the hoopla and media coverage -- until
I watched a little bit on one of the local stations. Then I was hooked.

This is so well written, Mary! Such an accurate account of what it's like, haha... as always, well done!

I agree with the previous post well written I feel like I was there! Thanks for the glimpse!

Yep, that's it in a nutshell - plus the odd music (jazz this year?) and odder props (large, weirdly-placed U.S. flags and I still swear that was a Stargate at GE last year).

Say Something!

We'd really like you to take part in the conversation here at All Over Albany. But we do have a few rules here. Don't worry, they're easy. The first: be kind. The second: treat everyone else with the same respect you'd like to see in return. Cool? Great, post away. Comments are moderated so it might take a little while for your comment to show up. Thanks for being patient.

What's All Over Albany?

All Over Albany is for interested and interesting people in New York's Capital Region. In other words, it's for you. It's kind of like having a smart, savvy friend who can help you find out what's up. Oh, and our friends call us AOA.


Recently on All Over Albany

Trey Anastasio's new band Ghosts of the Forest is playing The Palace

A new band headed up by Trey Anastasio -- Ghosts of the Forest -- is set to play The Palace April 9. Tickets go on... (more)

Where to buy firewood?

Wade asks: I'm looking for a reliable source of high quality seasoned firewood. Does anybody have a firewood guy they would recommend? Delivery preferred but... (more)

Walk/don't walk

In an opinion piece over at the Times Union, Walkable Albany's Andrew Neidhardt urges the city of Albany to change its use of pedestrian signal... (more)

Chad Orzel: Breakfast With Einstein

Check it out: Union College physics professor/science writer Chad Orzel has a new book out today called Breakfast with Einstein: The Exotic Physics of Everyday... (more)

Morning Blend

Fatal shooting in Albany + Albany police say a 28-year-old man was fatally shot near the intersection of the Judson Street and Second Street (map)... (more)

Recent Comments

I've seen a steady increase in cycling trips along Madison Ave. after the road diet. I've been one of those riders, too. It's made summertime trips from my house to the Point on Madison that much faster than walking, and there's really no need to drive that short distance - thereby saving a spot for another patron. I've not only enjoyed the F out of the trip, but burned a few calories, too, which considering my diet, is much needed. I'm very very pleased with this effort and thank CDTA, CDPHP and CDTC for their efforts in making this happen. I'm resolving to make MORE trips in 2019!

Walk/don't walk

...has 2 comments, most recently from Paul

A large, interesting party space in Albany?

...has 4 comments, most recently from Jamie

Bike share grew in both use and reach this year -- here's what CDTA's thinking about for next year

...has 8 comments, most recently from Bobby bikes a lot, IN TROY!!!

The new Zaitoon Kitchen location is open

...has 3 comments, most recently from June E Thorpe

Morning Blend for Dec 11

...has 1 comment, most recently from Bob