Semester in Washington Intern Blog
By Allen Henry
After having dinner with a friend Thursday night, I realized as I reached my second-to-last Metro stop that I had left my bag at our table. Panicked, I jumped off the train and phoned the restaurant to see if my bag was still there. Thankfully, it was. As I rode the escalator to the top of the Dupont Circle exit to hail a cab, I heard a man repeatedly yelling for people to “either move to the left or the right!” Unwittingly, I had stumbled upon the set of “Captain America: The Winter Soldier.”
“We’re filming a movie!” he shouted, putting an emphasis on “movie” that implied great importance, little patience and a hint of Hollywood magic.
I maneuvered behind the barricade placing myself in front of hundreds of spectators I hadn’t noticed earlier just as someone called “ACTION!” Captain America himself, Chris Evans, rode past on a motorcycle, as extras walked along the well-lit sidewalks, holding hands and creating a peaceful, neighborhood scene.
“CUT! Resetting!” a crewmember called out over a bullhorn, as applause and cheers erupted for the brief yet exciting scene they just witnessed. I began to walk toward the edge of where filming was taking place so I could hail a cab and get to my bag. It would have been nice to stay and watch more, but my phone was about to die and my phone charger was in my bag. Like most 20-somethings, I find being without my cell phone, even if just for the night, unacceptable.
As I reached the corner of 20th and R streets NW, I witnessed a red car attempting to merge into a lane, just as a white car was slowing down as the driver observed the filming in the rear-view mirror. The unmistakable sound of two cars colliding replaced the murmurs of the crowd, followed by blaring car horns ands gasps. Crew members shouted expletives, realizing their night just got much longer. I ran to the side of one of the cars and snapped a few photos before my phone finally lost power. I realized with no bag, I also had no notebook. “This could’ve been a great article,” I thought.
Police officers, already there because of the movie shoot, directed traffic away from the film set and tended to two people stuck in the car. D.C. police said Friday that no one was seriously injured. I ran from the scene, remembering my original problem: my bag. Slightly out of breath, I leapt in the first available taxi.
It’s been a week since I arrived in Washington, and my main thought still is: “Toto, I have a feeling we’re not in Kansas anymore.”
I came from Miami, and my obsession with “The Wizard of Oz” and “Wicked” probably made my subconscious call myself Toto. But the point is, new things are exciting, and I feel like my perspective changed from sepia to oversaturated full color.
It might be obvious to say Washington is not Miami, but I can’t help the pleasure of seeing something I would never see in South Florida.
My first week with the short course program with the Scripps Howard Foundation Wire reminded me “eternal novelty” is one of the reasons I decided to be a journalist, and the capital is an endless fount of novelty.
I picked up my own press pass to the U.S. Congress – it even has a nice photo – and covered a story about an immigration bill in the House of Representatives.
While doing camera training by the White House, we saw a free concert by a band from Boston named D.C. Wonder. After 10 minutes of music, some 200 cops riding horses interrupted the show to have their photo taken in front of the House. It was Police Week, and cops from everywhere were in town.
On day four, I finished my first story at about noon and decided to go for a walk to find some street musicians. I plan to do a feature story on them, so on my way to the National Mall, I passed by the White House and an activist group, Code Pink, was protesting about how prisoners are being force-fed at Guantanamo Bay.
There was my second story and first video.
What was the main lesson learned? The best stories are not in front of your computer, they are out there. And if you stand in front of the White House for a couple of hours, wild things happen.
By Allen Henry
Here at the Scripps Howard Foundation Wire, we typically come into the office about 9:30 a.m. and head out about 5:30 p.m., unless of course we’re out on a story. So when I decided Tuesday evening to make Mark Sanford’s Wednesday late-afternoon swearing in ceremony my first story, I couldn’t help but wonder: How would I spend the rest of my day?
I decided that watching the new representative from South Carolina place his hand on a Bible might make for a great picture, but not the best story. I figured my best bet would be to find his new office early in the morning to see if there was any move-in excitement. That might have been the best decision I made all day. When I arrived at his office, I could feel the excitement pouring out of the open office door, and a few passersby were stopping to take picture of the sign for “Representative Mark Sanford” hanging outside his office. I started to take a picture to post on Twitter and Facebook when Mark Sanford himself stepped out into the now-empty hallway and found me snapping away at his sign.
Like most Americans, I would assume, I had no idea who the former governor was until his infamous disappearance for a week in 2009, when staffers told the media he was “hiking the Appalachian trail” when he was actually in South America visiting his then-mistress, now fiancée. But now here he was, standing right in front of me, the man whose scandal and subsequent comeback had been dominating the national airwaves on-and-off for the past four years. So when he locked eyes with me, a trait every good public official should have, it was surreal. But then again, this whole experience has been so far. Here I was in Washington, in the hallways of the Cannon House Office Building on Capitol Hill, staring at Mark Sanford.
Without missing a beat, the congressman-elect introduced himself to me, shook my hand and told me to “Come on in!” The Southern hospitality was definitely on display and continued to be throughout the day. I became a fly on the wall, watching as he ate with friends and family, joked with staffers and posed for pictures with supporters who drove the eight hours from Charleston to see him being sworn in. Toward the end of the luncheon, Sanford even offered me one of the many remaining sandwiches, although I politely declined.
After the luncheon ended, I asked Sanford a few questions and prepared to leave. I went to exchange contact information with Sanford’s chief of staff and fumbled a bit with all of the equipment I was carrying while attempting to reach for a business card. “Sorry, it’s my first week and story,” I laughed, trying to offset any awkwardness my bumbling may have created. “It’s OK, it’s our first day!” he replied, realizing that he didn’t even have a business card to hand me.
I glanced in one last time to see what the congressman-elect was doing and saw him kneeling on the floor, collecting crumbs from the bright red carpet that lined his office. Here was a former congressman and governor, about to be sworn in to Congress once again in a matter of hours, picking up the remains of food left by guests on his big day. It was a reminder to me that this man, who I previously only knew from his very public fall from grace, was just that: a man. A man, like me, embarking on the next chapter of his life in Washington.
By Eddie Ameh
In a few days my internship with the Scripps Howard Foundation Wire will be over.
I had just 15 minutes between the time I found out I was qualified for the internship, and my interview by the International Center for Journalists. I had received an email previously, but I hadn’t seen it.
I was lucky I still had some of the information I used to apply on my laptop. It was a pleasant surprise when I got the email that offered me the internship.
I finally made the trip to Washington, D.C. It was a trip I took not knowing what was ahead of me except for the email from the Semester in Washington Director Jody Beck that said it would be a very nice experience.
The first person I met was Ian Kullgren who became my roommate. We later met with Matt Nelson and Amer Taleb. When I finally met the rest of the group on our first day at the office, it was a moment of excitement, anxiety and uncertainty. Anxiety and uncertainty because these are people I would be with for more than 120 days of my life. The moments of anxiety and uncertainty became exciting and have remained the same for the past four months.
Our joint coverage of the Inauguration, attending the State of the Union, the Supreme Court and the Pentagon are moments that still remain a talking point in the SHFWire office. The trip to New York for the College Media Association convention is an experience on its own. I’m sure these moments will become an integral part of a relationship we all hope to keep for as long as we can.
By our third week, we all got to know each other and we knew how to relate to each other.
Matt was the leader of the group and had to help each of us from issues in the apartment, issues in the office and a virtual D.C. tour guide. Ian became the guy-who-knew-it-all and had an example or experience to support an issue being discussed. Indeed, he knows everybody.
Amer was the coolest and nicest and Jasmine Aguilera was the ‘baby’ of the group because she was the youngest.
Our weekend dinners, which we rotated between apartments, will linger in my memory for a very long time. Through the weekend dinners, we got to know how classic a cook Basi Alonso was, and how wonderful Matt is in preparing meatballs.
My favorite moments were when we are all around the office and sharing jokes and laughing as if the world belonged to us.
Our Friday lunches with Jody and our guests also taught me a lot.
It is so amazing how time runs and flies. Alas, 14 weeks in Washington, D.C. are over.
I cannot write all in one single piece. I plan to tell a few untold stories and experiences at the Scripps Bureau about six interns with worldwide backgrounds in my next and perhaps last blog for this site. It has been an eye opener for an African, and as I always tell my boss, “I would do it again and again.”
By Eddie Ameh
The excitement generated in the newsroom when our boss gave us our tickets for our trip to New York was one that cannot be explained. For some of my colleagues, it was a homecoming and for others, a dream trip come true.
It was the College Media Association Spring National Convention. Our boss had sorted our everything from transport, hotel accommodation, conference registration and, of course, per diem.
It was one of the coolest train rides for me that Saturday as I Facebooked, Tweeted and listened to some very good highlife music from Kojo Antwi, Kwabena Kwabena and Youssour N’dour on my laptop. There was wifi access for the three-hour trip, thanks to Amtrak. We arrived in the afternoon, and after checking in our hotel room, we toured the city.
My colleague, Matt Nelson, and I ended up at the 9/11 Memorial site. For me, it was a humbling experience to see this, and I shed tears. I watched the 9/11 attacks almost 12 years ago on CNN in a friend’s house, and my visit to the site coincided with his birthday. I will never forget the experience.
Then my friend and colleague Selase Kove gave me a tour of his school, the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism, after which we went to a Ghanaian restaurant. There, I enjoyed some Ghanaian wakye and took some banku and tilapia to enjoy in my hotel room.
The conference started on Sunday, and I enjoyed some sessions. The showcase on Design: From Page 1 to the Digital Space with CNN’s Kyle Ellis was a masterpiece. Sunday’s keynote session with NBC’s Willie Geist was very instructive and interesting. I really learned a lot and will carry most of the things I learned into my career. I made a few friends as well.
My colleagues and I also had a nice evening in Times Square. Another interesting moment was our dinner at Sylvia’s Queen of Soul Food Restaurant in Harlem where fried chicken and shrimp and grits were popular orders.
The trip to Columbia to meet the dean of student affairs with my colleagues, Amer Taleb, Ian Kullgren and Jasmine Aguilera also made me hungrier to go to Columbia to do graduate studies in journalism.
The pizza Matt introduced me to and the walk past the New York Times building at night summed up one of the nicest experiences.
Alas, our days at New York were over, and we had to head back to D.C. Kojo Antwi, as usual, kept me company until the end of the trip.
One thing I was told when I was coming to D.C. was that it was a very busy place with a lot of people who go about their duties mostly in suits. From our first day until we boarded the train back to D.C., New York looked choked, congested and busy.
When we waited in the Metro tunnel at Union Station after getting off the train, I felt a vast different between the two cities, and then I concluded: D.C. is a ghost town compared to New York.
By Matt Nelson
If you're going to run in Minnesota, do it in the summer. In fact, if you're going to do anything in Minnesota, do it in the summer.
Except for ice fishing. You might drown.
You can run in spring, too. Just wait for that glorious first day when the temperature jumps above 40 and the sun is shining. That's what the weather was like the first day I went running.
I was quite the racer. Picture a fat kid with glasses lugging a backpack. He's decided to run in khaki pants and tennis shoes. He knows that isn't proper running attire, but he isn't sure what is, and in 2003, all he's got is dial-up Internet.
But this kid has an ace up his sleeve — he lives on a dirt road outside of town. He's confident no one can see him. He thinks about going up to the farmhouse to drop off his backpack (and maybe change into shorts), but he's afraid that he won't work up the determination to come back to the end of the driveway. If this first run is going to happen, it has to happen now.
At the end of the dirt road, he sees a stop sign. It is a half-mile away. He's never gone that far, but when he goes to high school in six months, he'll have to run twice that. That's why he's left his backpack at the side of the road and is awkwardly stretching his legs by the mailbox. He's afraid.
He takes a few breaths, throws out his arms — and begins to run!
Ten years later, that kid has become me — a three-time marathon runner who recently nailed a personal best of 3 hours and 41 minutes in the D.C. Rock 'N Roll Marathon.
But that first day, I ran about 200 feet. My heart was pounding so hard I had to sit at the side of the road (my khaki pants got dirty). The horses lined up behind the fence to watch me. They had judging eyes. Their whinnies mocked my wheezes. I gazed down the road at the stop sign, so small. So far away.
I've been asked what it feels like to run a marathon. I assume people want to hear about the sense of accomplishment, rather than the bleeding, chafing and other things they can learn about through Google. And the truth is, that as as proud as 26.2 miles makes you feel, it's just a cap on a series of victories that have so much more meaning.
Touching the stop sign 10 years ago — that was my first real running triumph. It had taken me the rest of the school year and half of the summer. Every day I ran a bit farther, sometimes as little as a few steps.
There were no crowds at the end of Foss Road pumping their fists to congratulate me, but the mosquitoes seemed excited enough.
It seems so small now, but if I hadn't touched that sign, I would not have run a marathon. That's how I learned that the toughest barriers to running were in my mind, not my muscles. The white letters said STOP, but I thought, why?
So I ran more. I ran my first marathon in 2008. I was OK until mile 25, when I thought about the stop sign. I started choking up. That's how I learned that a weepy, sweaty mess does not make a good finish line picture. Always smile.
I trained consistently and rigorously for the marathon last weekend. I lost quite a bit along the way, including 30 pounds and two wisdom teeth (I ran a total of 31 miles the weekend I had them taken out — prescription painkillers are great!). But I found a lot of things, too — the friends I made at run club, the wooded Beach Drive going miles into Maryland.
As far as marathons go, the Rock 'N Roll was fine — although I could have done with fewer acoustic Lady Gaga covers from the live bands along the route. I'm happy with my pace, and I've got a plan to keep cutting it down.
Ten years later, and I'm gazing at a starting line, not a stop sign: Boston, 2014. To get there, I'll need to run a minimum qualifying time of 3 hours and 5 minutes. The line is far away, hard to see.
I started on a dirt road by a mailbox. Now I'm at the Washington Monument. I'm stretching my legs, taking a few breaths, getting ready to run. I'm not afraid any more.
Here I come!
By Eddie Ameh
Wednesday was one of the busiest days at the bureau for my colleagues and me.
Some of us had one event or the other to attend; others had an interview or two to do while others had to complete their stories.
I had to attend the unveiling of a nine-foot tall bronze statue of Rosa Parks at Statuary Hall, in the Capitol.
Parks’s refusal to give up a seat for a white man on a bus in Montgomery, Ala. in 1955 sparked a bus boycott for a year and later resulted in the abolition of the segregation law. Parks has been credited as the mother of modern day civil rights advocacy.
This event brought President Barack Obama and congressional leaders together and they paid glowing tribute to a woman whose single action more than half a century ago has affected U.S. history. It was refreshing to see her family members from across the U.S. at the Capitol gracing the occasion.
It was also a delight to see civil rights advocate, the Rev. Jesse Jackson, at the event. I was glad when he granted me an interview and spoke of the life of Parks.
The event taught me a lesson that any action we take whether good or bad could have impact on generations so many years later.
By the time I came back, most of my colleagues were busily getting their stories done early enough to be ready for the 30th annual National Press Foundation dinner and awards. By 6:30 p.m., we were all done for the day and were headed for one of the NPF’s flagship programs for the year.
The event brought together some of the heavy weights of the U.S. media and rewarded journalists who had distinguished themselves in the year under review.
As a Ghanaian, two of the awards caught my attention most. First of all, the award for best Excellence in Online Journalism Award won by The Wall Street Journal will be something Gary Al Smith, former editor of my school’s newspaper “Communicator” will be happy about. He has always advocated for a category at the Ghana Journalists Awards for a category solely for online journalists.
Another award was the W.M. Kiplinger Award for Distinguished Contributions to Journalism which was won by Frank Deford, who writes for NPR, HBO and Sports Illustrated. Deford reminds me of veteran sports journalist Kwabena Yeboah. Yeboah is arguably Ghana’s best sports journalist. I pray he gets duly recognized for his contribution to Ghana’s sports journalism just like Deford.
All the award winners either mentioned or dedicated their awards to their colleagues in the newsroom. This taught me that, no matter how good a journalist is, he still needs the help of others. I learned the essence of unity and team building.
With good drinks at the pre-dinner reception and a very good meal at the dinner and a wonderful post-dinner party, my colleagues and I had a lot of fun, met new people but were sad it was over so soon. We were challenged and inspired by the stories of the award winners and encouraged ourselves to work hard. Who knows, some of us if not all could be back at NPF’s awards dinner, not as mere participants but as award winners.
By Eddie Ameh
My visit to the United States Supreme Court on Wednesday reminded me of a lot of things back home in Ghana. The Supreme Court in Ghana has been very busy since the opposition New Patriotic Party decided to contest the presidential results of the Dec. 7 elections. Never has the Supreme Court in Ghana been as busy in the history of 1992 constitution as it has been these few weeks. Of course, the court has sat on some landmark cases, but none has generated much interest like this.
And so I was at the U.S. Supreme Court, and it was not as busy as the Ghana Supreme Court. The U.S Supreme Court has ruled on some landmark cases that have drawn both national and international attention.
I have been a keen follower of the U.S. Supreme Court since Sonia Sotomayor was nominated by President Barack Obama in 2009, the fourth woman to serve on the court and the first Hispanic. This was because two years earlier, then President John Kufuor had appointed Ghana’s first female Chief Justice Georgina Wood.
I am not the only secret admirer of the first Hispanic woman to reach the highest pedestal of the U.S. judiciary. My colleagues Jess Miller and Jasmine Aguilera are also avowed fans of Sotomayor. It was therefore not a surprise when we were all moving from seat to seat to get a good view of proceedings from the press gallery. Fate smiled on us when we were ushered right to the front, where we could see proceedings and everybody clearly.
The media are accredited to cover cases at the U.S. Supreme Court, and most big media houses have desks at the Supreme Court. It is not like that in Ghana. It is only during high-profile cases that the court tries to get the media accreditation, and indeed, the petition to contest the Dec. 7 elections drew the highest number of media accreditation by the Supreme Court of Ghana.
The U.S. Supreme Court has long consisted of nine members, even though the Constitution is silent on the number. The same can be said of the Ghana Supreme Court, but presidents under the 1992 constitution have made sure the number has always been more than 10.
Usually all nine members of the U.S. Supreme Court sit on cases, and so they sat on two cases on Wednesday. The only time virtually all members of Ghana’s Supreme sat on a case was in 2002 when Tsatsu Tsikata petitioned the court over the illegality of then newly introduced Fast Track High Court. Not all of them sit on cases. Currently nine judges are sitting on the electoral case.
The discussions Wednesday were interesting, and I was so happy to see Sotomayor and other judges of the U.S. Supreme Court sit on cases for the first time. I learned a lot from the U.S. justice system and the fact that, indeed, the Supreme Court reigns supreme with its super imposing structure and facilities.
I was told you have to be sworn into the Supreme Court bar before you can argue a case before the court. I am not too sure it will ever happen in Ghana, at least not in the nearest future. The only requirement is to be called to the bar in Ghana. The U.S. Supreme Court can afford to go on recess every two weeks, because it hears only about 80 cases a year, but not their colleagues Ghana, who are still far from determining the biggest case in Ghana’s electoral history and perhaps judicial history.
By Eddie Ameh
In Ghana, it is called the State of the Nation address, but here, it is called the State of the Union address. They mean the same thing, though, and both are enshrined in the countries’ constitutions. One similarity is that each president gives his address before lawmakers.
The State of the Nation address in Ghana, ever since the inception of the 1992 constitution, has always been read in the morning, when workers are busily at work and students are in school. Many Ghanaians, therefore, lose the opportunity to watch the president deliver his State of the Nation address.
In the U.S., the president’s speech to lawmakers is a big deal. There are five different time zones in the U.S., and the president tries to make his speech at a time when as many American as possible can watch or listen to it, usually 9 p.m. Eastern Time. It is a prime-time event with millions across the nation watching.
And so when my colleagues and I got our credentials to cover the event, we were very happy. We were happy because there wasn’t as much pressure on us as reporters as there was during the inauguration. I was personally happy because I was going to cover my first State of the Union and it was going to be President Barack Obama’s first such speech of his second term and the fourth of his presidency.
After we were ushered into the press gallery, I made sure I got a seat where I could see the president and other guests. In Ghana, when the president makes a very remarkable statement, the closest signs of approval he gets are shouts of “Hear, Hear” from the members. In the U.S., members clap and give the president standing ovations.
The stakes were high, and people were expecting Obama to deliver and he did just that. We got the full text of his speech a few minutes before he started. Of course, there was nothing journalists could do because it was embargoed, meaning we could not report on it until he said it. His comments on gun control, which he made toward the end, attracted the loudest cheers, applause and the longest standing ovations. Perhaps he was saving the best for the last.
One thing I noticed was that a lot of the journalists were tweeting almost every statement the president made, so it was no wonder this year’s speech had more than 760,000 tweets.
When it was all over, I was happy and learned a lot of things about American politics. Some of the president’s most avowed critics applauded when they had to. I doubt if this would ever happen in Ghana without the politician being tagged as a traitor by his or her own party members.
When Obama came to Ghana in 2009, a lot of government officials, including cabinet members, were seen taking photographs of him. They were criticized by the media for doing that. On Tuesday many American lawmakers were taking photos of the president with their phones or iPads.
I wondered what the reaction would have been if parliamentarians in Ghana started taking photographs of President John Mahama in the chamber of the house, but American lawmakers did that with ease.
My colleagues and I did not take photographs of the president at the speech because our credentials did not give us permission, and indeed, with rare exception, journalists are not allowed to take photographs in the chamber of the Senate or the House of Representatives.
We took some photos outside the House chamber, and I woke up to see a photograph of me and my colleague Amy Slanchik in the Washington Post (second row on the right) perhaps to tell me, “You don’t worry about taking pictures, we’ll do it for you.” It was a nice experience that will stay in my mind for a long time. As for that copy of the Washington Post, I will keep it and show it to my great grandchildren.
By Amy Slanchik
National Geographic recognized “Travelers of the Year” for the first time this week and held a discussion event in their honor. Before going to cover the event, I read about each of the travelers and I was inspired by what each of them had done and where they had traveled. Not all of the chosen travelers were at the event, but it was really inspiring to see a few of them discuss their different travel experiences.
One of the main things the travelers emphasized was to explore your neighborhood. In this economy, not everyone can afford to travel, especially on an elaborate trip around the world. They encouraged the audience to start small, by going outside more, trying new things and meeting new people.
Last summer, I interned in D.C. and had a wonderful experience that I will remember for the rest of my life. But at the end of the summer, I realized that I hadn’t seen everything in the city. I went to one or two museums and tried a few new restaurants, but for the most part, I let myself get into a routine for three months.
One of my goals for my second time in Washington is to really explore the city. If I don’t plan more things to do and places to go, April will be here before I know it and I’ll be in the same boat I was last summer.
When it comes to food, I don’t like to take too many risks. I try new things from time to time, but let’s face it, when all of the interns had lunch together from Naan and Beyond, an Indian restaurant, I ordered a Caesar salad. After hearing so many inspirational stories on Tuesday, I figured I at least owed it to myself to try something new. For dinner I decided to go to District Kitchen, a restaurant just down the street from our apartment that I hadn’t been to before. I ordered cod fritters, something I would normally avoid because I’m not very fond of seafood. As it turned out, I really enjoyed the food and I’m glad I tried something new.
For the past few years, it has been one of my goals to visit all 50 states before I turn 30. So far, I’ve been to 27 states. I have eight years to visit the other 23, but for now, I can start my adventures right here in Washington.