Kid Reporter at the White House
Learning the ropes at a presidential press conference
When President Barack Obama held his first full press conference at the White House in more than a year this week, I was one of approximately 60 reporters from around the world to cover the event. Since this was the first time a Scholastic Kid Reporter has ever covered a White House press conference, I didn't really know what to expect, but came prepared with a question just in case.
Being a foot shorter than everyone else—and wearing a bright red shirt, amidst a sea of business suits—I expected to stick out a bit. However, to my surprise, almost no one approached me to ask why I was there. I got the feeling that the assembled White House press corps might be kind of a serious, skeptical bunch who had seen just about everything. I did eventually get a few curious looks. One reporter, Paul Brandus, from Capitol News, snapped a photo of me, saying, "I want to get a picture of the next generation [of reporters]!"
When I first stepped inside the front doors of the White House and followed the other reporters into the East Room, I could barely see the room at all, because it was blocked by a wall of cameras. However, as I moved past all this gear, my eyes widened: The room was totally white with lavish gold curtains that restricted any sunlight from entering. Nevertheless, plenty of light flooded the space from two ornate chandeliers and all the lightening from the camera crews.
I wandered through rows of chairs until I discovered one that wasn't already reserved and slid into it. I was squashed between a Japanese reporter and another young man who struck up a conversation with me. He then started tweeting about me! The Japanese reporter kept glancing down at my notepad. I'm pretty sure he was trying to peek at my question.
Once seated, I had a clear view of the scene before me, presidential podium and all. I was taking notes on details of what had happened so far, when a voice announced over the din of talking reporters, "Ladies and Gentleman, the President of the United States."
I looked up, and there he was, as if he had popped out of the ground! I experienced a light-headed euphoria as I realized that standing in front of me was the most powerful man in the world.
The President made opening remarks before he took any questions. He called reporters' names off a list he had at the podium. By the third or fourth person I realized that if I wasn't on that list (and I highly doubted that I was), I was not going to be called on. That didn't stop me from timidly raising my hand a few pitiful inches whenever he seemed to look in my direction.
After roughly 13 questions, the President said, "Thank you," and jogged (literally) from the podium. As I joined the mob heading toward the exits, I wondered what I was going to write about. The questions covered so many diverse areas, but they did not cover the topic that I was hoping to discuss: education. I decided to consult with some of the more experienced press crew.
Keith Koffler, a veteran 15-year White House Reporter shared some insight on the news value of a press conference, especially when you don’t get to ask your own question.
"The difference between a speech and a press conference is that a press conference is usually better attended [by reporters] and may contain less rehearsed remarks," he said. In other words, the President is actually speaking to you rather than reading off prepared remarks. That can lead to newsy statements.
Bill Jones from Executive Intelligence Review gave me the same advice my editor did before the conference.
"Always be prepared to ask your question and raise your hand as often as possible," he said.
Well, better luck next time!—Nick Berray
PHOTOS: (TOP) Kid Reporter Nick Berray (red shirt) squeezed into rows of reporters at a presidential press conference in the White House. (BOTTOM) Nick's view of President Barack Obama at the press conference in the East Room of the White House. (Photos Courtesy Nick Berray)