Semester in Washington Intern Blog
By Eddie Ameh
When I had the email confirming me for this internship, I was excited because I knew I would be covering events at the White House, but when and which event was another issue.
I covered the inauguration, but covering the White House and inauguration are two different things. When the event appeared on Monday’s schedule of news events, I knew my colleagues and I were going to jostle for who was going to cover it.
I was surprised my colleagues were not interested in covering it. Not because they were not excited to cover the White House but because it was sports.
The Miami Heat basketball team was being honored by President Barack Obama. Thank God, I love sports.
Indeed, basketball is quite a popular sport in Ghana, and Lebron James has a huge following in Ghana. My editor finally credentialed me and I was set for my first official White House event. After going through the security checks, I was bound for the East Room of the White House.
For a first time reporter at the White House, I surprisingly felt at home because I was lucky to have some experienced reporters who engaged me in conversation. I therefore had no problem setting my tripod in place during the “preset,” as some of the experienced reporters were kind enough to show me a spot where I could get the best pictures.
When Obama visited Ghana in July 2009, the closest I came to meeting him was on television. I took pictures of Obama at the inauguration but from a distant angle.
When he entered the East Room, I made sure I was not overwhelmed by his personality into becoming a spectator, but as my editor tells me all the time, “Take as many pictures as possible.” I did, and it helped. The event took less than 15 minutes, and so I never had the opportunity to take notes. I listened and was lucky to be sent a transcript of the president’s speech by Scripps Howard News Service reporter Bart Sullivan. I was also lucky to have one of the photographers take some shots of me in the White House.
Even though it was a very short event, I took photographs of the man people call “the most powerful man on Earth,” and he was less than 20 feet away from where I was.
One lesson I learned was to always engage people in a conversation when I get to a place for the first time. They were of tremendous help to me.
I don’t know when I will be there to cover an event again. Even if I don’t, one thing is certain: I was at the White House, and Obama stood 20 feet from where I was. I never paid to see the Miami Heat, neither did I have to travel to Hollywood to see actress Gabrielle Union, who has been dating Heat player Dwyane Wade. Don’t I love this job?
By Eddie Ameh
WASHINGTON – I missed the opportunity to cover this month’s inauguration in Ghana because I arrived in the United States the very day Ghana’s new President John Mahama was being sworn in. It would have been my first inauguration.
Indeed, Mahama was sworn in and the event was over by the time I stepped out of the plane. Ghana is ahead of D.C. by five hours. I arrived here at 10:45 a.m., and it was 1:35 p.m. in Accra, the capital. By that time Mahama had left Independence Square, the venue for Ghana’s event.
I missed the opportunity in 2009 because I was in Kumasi, Ghana’s second city, gathering reactions from residents on then President John Mills’ inauguration.
I was, however, lucky to cover President Barack Obama’s second inauguration.
I have watched and followed inaugurations in Ghana since 1992 when the country returned to constitutional rule. I have followed U.S. inaugurations during same periods, too. There are quite a few differences. More than 1.2 million people gathered on the Mall and along Pennsylvania Avenue between the Capitol and the White House in 2009 to watch history unfold as the first black president of U.S. was sworn in. Even though that number dropped for his second swearing in, the crowd this week was significant enough.
By law, elections are held in the U.S on the first Tuesday after the first Monday in November, and the president is sworn in Jan. 20. This was pushed from March after the 20th Amendment to the Constitution. This is unlike Ghana, where the constitution mandates that the election take place Dec. 7 and the president be sworn in Jan. 7.
In the United States, the inauguration is a big deal. Even though the U.S. Constitution does not bar presidents from being sworn in on a Sunday, six presidents before Obama deferred their public swearing-in ceremonies to Monday when Jan. 20 fell on a Sunday, and Obama was not going to change that. So the Joint Congressional Committee on Inaugural Ceremonies, the committee appointed by the U.S. Congress to plan the ceremony, decided to hold the public ceremony on Monday. Obama had the private swearing-in at the White House on Sunday. The joint congressional committee begins planning before the election, so the president usually has little to do with planning the ceremony, even though he could.
There is also the Presidential Inaugural Committee, which is private, and raises money to pay for its events. It is responsible for organizing the inaugural parade – along with a military committee – presidential balls and other celebrations. The joint congressional committee sponsors only the public swearing in, while the PIC organizes the other events. Four years ago, Obama attended 10 balls, but this year he attended only two.
In Ghana inaugurations have been held Jan. 7 since 1992, regardless of which day of the week it falls. It has never been rescheduled for any reasons. The committee that arranges the inauguration is usually set up by the president after winning the elections. There are no official balls.
One thing is common, though; people troop in their numbers whether to the Capitol or Independence Square.
One other common thing is the use of the Bible at inaugurations. In Ghana, the president and his vice president have the opportunity to use the Bible or the Koran to be sworn in. The only person in the history of the 1992 constitution to have used a Koran was the late former Vice President Alhaji Aliu Mahama in 2001 and 2005. U.S presidents are noted for using historical Bibles for their swearing-in ceremonies. In 2009, Obama used the Bible that Abraham Lincoln used. This year, he used both the Lincoln Bible and Martin Luther King Jr.’s family Bible at the public ceremony. The King family Bible is the one that King used for his first sermon at the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church, where he was pastor in 1950. The president in Ghana holds the Bible or the Koran himself and is sworn in, but the U.S president places his hand on the Bible held by his wife.
In Ghana after the president is sworn in, he sits on the big beautifully designed chair made specifically for the occasion. His vice president also sits on one also designed for that purpose. The only time the president and his vice president get to sit on these chairs aside inauguration days are when he goes to Parliament to give his state of the nation address.
He is also given a sword specially designed as a sign of power. It is called the sword of office. He holds and shows it to the whole world. It also has some traditional meanings, as most traditional rulers have these swords as a sign of power and authority. The day is officially over for the president of Ghana after he displays the sword of office and gives his speech.
But in the U.S, the day has just begun, as the president is expected to review the parade held in his honor and attend the balls organized for him. Perhaps that is the reason why heads of states from other countries are not invited but their diplomats. The U.S president is a busy person on inauguration day.
By Amy Slanchik
My day started out with waking up at 4:30 a.m. and practically inhaling McDonald’s coffee while mentally preparing for the day. I was pumped and ready to take on the world. My first inauguration was before me. I really had no idea what to expect of the day, but I was prepared. I wore clothes with pockets so I could bring everything I might need – Kleenex in case I sneezed, a granola bar in case I had a minute to grab a bite and, of course, hand warmers.
All of the interns gathered in the lobby of our apartment building, ready to embrace the cold weather and report all day. We had arrived where we thought we were supposed to go for media check-in, but it seemed as if every security person had a different policy about who could go where. It was a bit of a struggle for me to get in, but I finally got past security. Next task: figure out where I’m supposed to be and start taking pictures.
Once I realized how close I was to the Capitol, I decided to stay there until someone said something about it. My inauguration ticket was for a different area, farther away from the Capitol. Since no one asked me to move, I was able to sit and enjoy the entire ceremony up close with an incredible view.
If I had to choose one word to describe witnessing this historic event, it would be “patriotic.” I think that, despite the problems our nation faces, we still live in the greatest country on Earth. The fact that we are able to have such a peaceful transfer of power among our differences is an incredible testament to our people. It meant so much to me not only to be at the inauguration but also to be surrounded by people who are different from me, yet at the same time, very similar.
I interviewed a woman after the ceremony who was so full of energy and excitement to be at the inauguration. She is a first-generation American and had never been to an inauguration ceremony before. It meant a lot to her that she was an American, and it made me think twice about how blessed I am to have been born here.
Another man I interviewed openly admitted that he was not a Democrat but was a big supporter of President Barack Obama. This was his fifth inauguration. That sparked my interest because he had been to both Democratic and Republican inaugurations in his past.
Next on my to-do list was to get back to the office and write my stories, then prepare for the Creative Coalition ball. It was my job to talk to celebrities and find out who they think will win the Super Bowl. What a task! I spoke to actors Robert Knepper, Richard Schiff, Evan Handler, Matt Bomer, Tim Daly and Omar Epps and others. After the celebrities walked the red carpet, I met Don Lemon from CNN and posed for a picture with him.
After the Creative Coalition ball, I went home and ate dinner at about 1 a.m. and thought to myself as I fell asleep, “Wow, I won’t get to do this again until I’m 26 years old.”
People were aggressive as they tried to get a view of President Barack Obama any way they could on Inauguration Day 2013.
At the swearing-in ceremony, so many thousands of people had gathered on the Capitol lawn that even moving an arm was sometimes impossible.
Some people climbed up trees or atop porta potties to get a better view. At one point, observers worked together to lift a porta potty out of the way of their vantage point, while others watched in fear, hoping the toilet wouldn’t topple over and crush them.
Reporting in all of the chaos was nearly impossible. Once, I had to elbow a woman standing next to me just to get my camera in the air and shoot some photos of the crowd.
I didn’t get a view of the ceremony, or even the large screen on the side that was meant for those in the back of the crowd – another downside to being small. I’m 5-foot-3½.
Though the inaugural parade also had thousands of spectators, the route was spread out, so I didn’t have to fight too much to get a good spot. There were still people climbing onto anything they could to make them taller, but I had room to attach my camera to a tripod, set the timer and lift it above my head to get shots of the parade.
The screaming and chaos when Obama drove by was beyond words. I found myself desperately clinging to hope that I had my camera aimed at precisely the right spot to capture him.
When I looked through my pictures in the camera and saw that I had caught both the president and vice president, I excitedly thought to myself “success,” since I had a journalist’s mentality.
But when I stopped and thought about what had just happened, I realized I didn’t get to appreciate the moment because my main concern was getting the picture, rather than watching the president pass by.
That was also the moment I realized I never stopped to get a picture of myself at Inauguration Day events. My first thought went to my mom back home in El Paso, Texas, and how mad she was going to be at me.
I was disappointed, of course, but while escaping the mass chaos that was Inauguration Day, it occurred to me that I had not only attended a historic event, but I helped document it at only 19 years old. I was not just a spectator, but a participant in history, and even if I didn’t get a picture of myself (sorry mom), I can’t think of anything more humbling.
By Matt Nelson
All I had to do was snap pictures and record audio. That was it. So I loaded up on handwarmers, caught a train and went to cover the inauguration of the president of the United States of America.
Things went wrong fast.
First stop: the Pentagon. I was headed to the staging area for the inaugural parade, where I imagined there would be dozens of marching bands going through their pre-parade routine. In particular, I was looking for the Isiserettes, a drum and drill corps from Des Moines, Iowa. They had played at my college orientation years before, and I was looking forward to hearing them again.
I got stuck in the volunteer tent, where I was repeatedly asked about my committee.
"I'm with the press," I corrected, flashing my pass. "Where do I go?"
No one seemed to have an answer for me, but I was promised a press escort. But just then, I ran into Sue Dvorsky, the chairwoman of the Iowa Democratic Party. She told me she was excited about having the chance to carry the Iowa sign in the parade.
Perfect! I thought.
Thirty minutes later, the escort found me as I was about to attempt an interview with a member of the Punahou High School Marching Band — the school that counts President Barack Obama as an alumni.
Occasionally, people inside the buses would be ushered over to the pen to do interviews or play some music for a television stand-up. That's how I nabbed this picture of the Punahou band members as they played.
I didn't enjoy my morning at the Pentagon — it felt too staged. What was worse, I had been stuck in the volunteer tent for too long and I had missed the Isiserettes.
I learned of other areas I could get in with my parade credential — the parade assembly area at 14th Street and Independence Avenue SW, just off the National Mall. It wasn't quite ten o'clock, so I decided to go for it.
That's when I hit these crowds on the metro.
But I had made it! There were the line of buses — there were the excited kids practicing for the parade. There were my photo-ops. The Isiserettes couldn't be too far away.
I almost made it through security. They made me take off my coat and verified my hand warmers were not chemical weapons. All right! I thought. Showtime!
"One thing," the guard said. "Where's your press ID?"
I flashed him my parade credential.
No dice. Apparently I looked like the type of person who would find a press credential on the street. I told him I'm not that lucky.
"I need your press ID that's got your organization on it, with your picture."
Time was running short at this point, so I decided to get the closest I could to a giant TV screen and try to capture crowd reactions to the president's speech. I followed the flow of the crowd and wound up by the Washington Monument.
I got my microphone out and my camera ready. I wanted every clap and cheer. I would capture every boo and hiss. I was ready for the 57th inauguration.
Listen: How Beyonce sounded to me
The TV screen didn't work.
The gigantic television and speakers spat out a garbled mess of audio and video for the entirety of the ceremony. I contemplated the possible headlines:
"Jumbotron a jumbo fail."
"At least it'll be on YouTube."
"It takes a lot to make Beyoncé sound bad."
At one point, a 6-year old boy named John DiCarlo drew laughs from the crowd when he yelled out what everyone was thinking: "Why isn't it working!"
It was awful.
Listen: John, 6, talks about the inauguration
Afterward, the crowd began to filter away down Constitution Avenue. I decided to try one last time to photograph the parade — and was promptly rebuffed at every media checkpoint I tried. Discouraged, I began to walk almost aimlessly along the parade route, trying to find a good place to get a picture.
I turned a corner, about two blocks from the White House, ready to head back to the office. There they were — the Isiserettes. They had finished the parade route and were on their way back to the bus.
My heart raced — there they were! I started snapping pictures like a paparazzi. Their lead drum instructor, Cory Williams, saw me.
Let's make some noise! he shouted to the group. Let's give a shout out to Washington, D.C.!
Then he hit the xylophone.
And there it was. The smiling kids pounding the drums and dancing with as much spirit as I remembered from my first day at college. There was Sue Dvorsky, hoisting her Iowa sign far above her head with all the pride she could muster. I was half laughing and half crying up as I juggled the microphone and took my pictures.
They moved away from me, laughing, bellowing and dancing. I held back to catch the rest of the parade as marchers finished the route. I took pictures until the light got too bad for the camera, and it was time to go home.
I guess I could be angry about the things that went wrong on inauguration day for me, but I'm not. In the end, I got one heck of a story — I just didn't expect it to be mine.
By Jess Miller
Katy Perry and Usher may have wowed the kids in the crowd at Saturday’s Kids’ Inaugural Concert, but the real stars of the show weren’t famous pop stars with hits on the radio. They were regular kids from Chicago in Walt Whitman’s Soul Children of Chicago choir.
Together with the hip-hop instrumentalist duo Black Violin, the choir performed an arrangement of “Come Together” that would have made the Beatles proud. The performance, heavy on soul and strings, had everyone in the audience, including the cameramen, swaying and clapping. Sitting all the way in the back of the room in the press box, I got chills from the amazing sounds produced by this group of (mostly) teenagers. The chords were just right, and the swing and lilt of the arrangement was on point.
I was amazed that this was a so-called “children’s choir.” They had the choral knowledge of a group of seasoned adults. Not only that, but their songs were positive, uplifting and totally appropriate for a kids’ concert. The word in the press box was that Michelle Obama herself got these kids to perform for the concert, most likely because she too was aware of the constructive content they would execute.
While I was not unimpressed by the performances of Usher, Katy Perry and Far East Movement, I remain skeptical that these were the best choices of artists to perform at a Kids’ Inaugural Concert. Usher’s performance of his song “Yeah,” which kick-started the concert, is about picking up women in the club and makes references to oral sex. The curse words and overly sexual phrases were left out, but as a fellow intern pointed out, “It’s not like those kids aren’t just going to go home and buy the explicit version of the song on iTunes.”
Even though Katy Perry’s set was all shimmer and glimmer, she might not be the type of role model for young girls who saw her in a skintight onesie and paired dancers who were more gropey than teenage boys on prom night.
I thought each artist delivered a good performance. But in terms of style, musicality and suitable content, the Chicago Soul Children’s Choir made the Kids’ Inaugural Concert a success. Thanks, Michelle.
By Amer Taleb
Forty thousand feet in the air, the man next to me collapsed.
He was elderly and walking slowly toward the airplane’s bathroom when he fell, crashing face-first into a seat-back tray across the aisle from me. The people around him panicked.
“Help!,” I yelled. The flight attendants rushed over and ordered me to the back of the plane.
My new seat, near the tail and sandwiched between a bathroom and trash disposal, was a fold-up that only flight attendants are supposed to sit in. From the small crowd that formed mid-plane, one of the flight attendants walked toward me.
“Heart problems,” she said to the question I didn’t ask. “We’re lucky the woman near him is a cardiologist.”
Not only was a cardiologist sitting in front of him, but I also later found out that a nurse was aboard, too. After receiving aid, the gentleman appeared fine for the rest of the flight. It was remarkable. And with that dramatic start, my journey to D.C. had begun.
I arrived in the capital the next evening, and this internship started a few days after that. It’s been a hectic stretch, but I still think about the occurrence on the plane almost every day since it happened. I’m still trying to pin down all of the lessons I’m supposed to extract from it, the values anyone would expected to learn and apply.
The primary one is showing compassion for other people, like the cardiologist did for that man. As a journalist, I’m constantly looking for a great story, but being empathetic toward a source is not always the first concern I think of.
Moving forward, I think that’ll change. In fact, I’m certain it will.
The other interns and I had a great opportunity to see and meet some iconic journalists at the 2012 ICFJ Awards Dinner.
It was an event we had all been looking forward to as soon as we found out we’d be going. Everyone was busy working on stories, and as soon as the clock marked 5:30 p.m. on Nov. 13, it was time to clock out and make our way to the Ronald Reagan Building and International Trade Center.
The night was pretty chilly when we walked out. I fell behind after I had to return to the office to get a camera so I’d be prepared for a story I had to do the following day. I caught up with the rest of the interns at the reception, which Google sponsored. That means free drinks for everyone present and of course, registration cost money, however, the Scripps Howard Foundation had us covered. So there I was with a camera. I decided I would start documenting the experience for the sake of memories. I thought everyone would maybe like to have something to look back on if they ever do feel like reminiscing about the night.
Everyone was mingling and taking free Google notebooks and free drinks until the chimes jingled to let everyone know it was time for dinner. Dinner was served, and Wolf Blitzer, CNN’s lead political anchor and master of ceremonies, kicked off the show and got things rolling.
Bob Woodward, investigative reporter and associate editor at The Washington Post, and Ann Curry, NBC correspondent, made appearances. Most of the interns got a chance to talk to Woodward, and they caught him in a good mood. He was all smiles and signed autographs.
Two international journalists were recognized for their work and received the Knight International Journalism Award.
They were Kassim Mohamed, senior correspondent, Star FM, in Kenya, and Sami Mahdi, news director, 1TV, in Afghanistan. Mohamed reported on Somali piracy and wrote about brutal gangs in a neighborhood in Nairobi, Kenya, where he is based. Mahdi has created a media outlet that gives Afghan citizens a voice in their country. He also started a show, “Niqab,” which means mask. In this show, in front of a live audience, Mahdi interviews women who have been victims of rape and domestic violence. These women can speak without fear because their identities are hidden behind a mask. His mission is to stop violence against women.
YouTube’s CEO Salar Kamangar accepted the News Innovation Award on behalf of the company. YouTube has been able to provide a place where people can share raw footage of events going on around the world.
Pamela Howard, vice chairman of ICFJ and a Scripps Howard Foundation board member, made an appearance at the dinner. Before the event, she stopped by the office Tuesday morning and we all got a chance to meet her. She was a nice and humble lady.
Once dinner was over, we all got pictures with Wolf Blitzer and Bob Woodward. The women were able to get a picture with Kamangar in a Gangnam style pose.
It was a good time for all of us.
At the gate to the White House, I spoke to the guard through the intercom. I tried to give her my last name, but she couldn’t hear me over noise from people opening and closing the gate.
“Last name?” she asked.
“Heckman,” I said. “H-E-C.” Clang!
After several iterations, the guard finally let me in.
At 12:30 p.m., the press was allowed into the East Room for the pre-set. Staking out a spot for my tripod was the most difficult part of the process, since many of the television crews and photographers had already set up by the time I got there.
At first, I tried stationing my camera next to a Japanese TV crew, but a photographer’s ladder kept me from getting a clear shot of the podium where the president would be speaking. With time running out, I ran to the other side of the room and found a clear vantage point.
While adjusting my camera settings, I saw NBC White House correspondent Chuck Todd performing a mic test for his stand-up, and used him to test the lighting in my photos.
After I set up my tripod, White House aides ushered reporters to the James S. Brady Press Briefing Room, where we waited until it was time for the news conference to begin. Here, I ran into Bart Sullivan from the Scripps Howard News Service. He was covering the news conference as a pool reporter, and he wished me luck just as we were led back to the East Room.
The last time I saw President Barack Obama was at a campaign stop at George Mason University. Wednesday, I saw a more serious side of Obama carrying out the responsibilities of the president, compared to his more lighthearted persona on the campaign trail in October.
However, the president still displayed wit and charisma at times to breathe life into the news conference. The most notable example was his snarky response to a reporter who shouted out a question without being called on.
“That was a great question,” Obama said, “but it would be a horrible precedent for me to answer your question just because you yelled it out.”
The most surreal part of the day was coming back home and watching clips of the press conference on TV. For a day, I covered the same story as some of the biggest brands in television and print news.
Click to listen to this post — narrated with audio from the White House.
I went to the White House shortly before midnight on Election Day. I'm not sure about that time — the hours seemed to blur after spending 14 of them in the SHFWire office. I had been curating the flow of stories produced by our reporters from the Virginia Senate race in Richmond all day, but now that race, like the presidential election, had ended, and I was eager for a breath of fresh air.
If I hadn’t known where the White House was, I wouldn't have needed directions. I could hear the roaring of the crowd, and I followed the stream of people who seemed to disregard the advice of stoplights and road signs. It was impossible to tell which drivers the pedestrians angered, since they were all honking their horns.
If there were Romney supporters in this crowd, they were well hidden, or they were great at being quiet. The people outside the White House were blue throughout, and they weren't afraid to let you know it. Inside this group of about 1,000 people, I became overwhelmed by the sounds of screaming, yelling, cheering and singing. One thing was certain: These people had a lot more energy than I did.
Occasionally, parts of the crowd would seem to spontaneously erupt as someone's cheer or song caught on. I found myself moved (both literally and figuratively) by a jostling group that sang the national anthem at the top of their lungs.
Everyone was taking pictures. That was another thing you could hear — the clicking from the shutters. The crowd was peppered with camera flashes, this artificial lightning catching individuals in an instant of patriotic fever. Over here I saw young men and women in a jumping pack, chanting "Four more years! Four more years!"
Others tried to start cheers and failed to do so. One young woman leapt onto the shoulders of another and waved a flag above the crowd. I started attempting to extricate myself after a group of suspicious-smelling people began talking excitedly about the results of Colorado vote to legalize marijuana.
The people kept rushing past me as I walked away from the White House gates. The noise grew louder, even as the hour grew later. I was glad to have gone, even if the time seemed as quick as a camera flash.