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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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