As an aspiring young journalist, friends and family members are constantly joking around with you, saying things like “oh one day you’ll be interviewing celebrities,” or “pretty soon you’ll be writing about the President.” Although they say these things half joking and half seriously, sometimes it could actually happen to you. This is one of those times when something like that happened to me.
On Thursday Jan. 28, 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. President Barack Obama and Vice-President Joe Biden held what they call 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 Orland0 and eventually connect with Miami. If you want to read the story, here it is.
Here is a rundown of how the day went:
- At 6:30 a.m. the photographer and I were on our way to Tampa. 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 a little 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 had to evacuate the building for two hours. Why you ask? Well the secret service and their staff must sweep the building before any presidential appearance to ensure everything is safe and secure. The sniff dogs and probably a bunch of other super cool and super secret equipment went around the entire gym checking for potential “threats.”
- When the building was finally deemed secure the media was allowed back in. We checked in and were given official White House Press passes after going through the metal detectors. Getting into the gym, the place was already quickly filling up with people who had lined up for hours the day before to get a ticket, and it was only a bit past 10 a.m.
- Air Force One and Air Force Two (Obama and Biden) were expected to begin at 12: 30 p.m but the event 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 Internet connection to pass the time. Plus 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, in walked about a dozen professionally dressed, serious-looking men and women with laptop bags and Blackberries. This was 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 really 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 the got back on the plane with the President and went back to Washington. I aspire to be them one day.
- We Pledged Allegiance to the Flag, said the National Anthem, and then Joe Biden came onstage. He talked a bit about creating jobs and restoring America, and then he introduced the man of the hour: Barack Obama. The entire room erupted into cheers and screams and he 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 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.
- Awake 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.