By Jory Heckman
I hadn’t seen the campus of Hofstra University for a year and a half, and it was strange to return during the week of the presidential debate.
A year abroad in Amsterdam and my internship with the Scripps Howard Foundation Wire kept me away from Hempstead, N.Y. for so long that I hardly recognized the place when I first arrived.
Right outside the student center, MSNBC had set up a stage for their live broadcasts. Inside the student center, radio talk show host Geraldo Rivera had set up a remote studio and was interviewing students.
Politicians and media superstars were not hard to come by on Tuesday, Oct. 16, the day of the second presidential debate. Inside the media filing center, President Obama’s senior campaign advisor Robert Gibbs, Sen. John Kerry and Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus paced the spin room after the debate to advocate for their candidates. The president’s arrival eclipsed them all. Hofstra students tweeted photos of Marine One landing in the athletic fields.
Minutes before the cameras started rolling, I got a tweet from Todd Starnes of Fox News Radio. Starnes and I met at the gubernatorial debate at Hofstra in 2010, and he has become a mentor of mine. He wished me luck, and I returned the gesture with a tweet.
During the debate, I had to keep my awe in check after Lawrence O’Donnell of MSNBC sat down at the table in front of me. We even had a conversation… sort of.
When aides were passing stacks of debate transcripts to the reporters, O’Donnell had an extra and passed it back to me.
“Thanks,” I said.
“You’re welcome,” he said.
It took every fiber of my being to not ask him to sign it.
The event was a homecoming of sorts for Hofstra School of Communication alumni. A friend of mine who works for ABC’s Good Morning America came through the office of our college radio station. I ran into another friend who works for the Wall Street Journal right outside the filing center. My former roommate was working as a student volunteer in the security clearance booth. We caught up as the Secret Service inspected my camera gear.
As a member of the press at such a high-profile event, I was in good hands. On Tuesday, I didn’t pay for my meal. Catering crews stocked a table in the back with sandwiches, cookies, chips, and coffee – plenty of coffee.
Across from the media-filing center, tucked away in a parking lot full of satellite trucks, Anheuser-Busch set up a press tent with an open bar.
While the beer was free, the prices for basic utilities for journalists were astronomically high. When I first arrived at the filing center, I asked the help desk why I couldn’t find a designated seat. They told me I had to pay for one, at the reasonable price of $40. Wi-Fi cost a little more than $100, and an Ethernet connection cost around $200. This doesn’t begin to cover expenses for reporters with radio or TV equipment.
As a student, however, I was able to use my ID number to log onto the free campus-wide network.
A sign on my assigned seat had reserved it for ‘Scripts Howard News,’ rather than ‘Scripps Howard News,’ where I work. I got a laugh out of it, and tweeted a photo of the sign.
The stress during this trip was intense, and the hours were long, but at the end of the day, I could see myself working as a campaign reporter. I was only on the job for less than a week, and I already had so many good stories to tell. I can only imagine what a year of this must be like.
In the end, I am indescribably proud of the students’ enthusiasm and professional attitude during this whole political pageant. The university did an incredible job with the preparations, and I’m sure they’ll send in yet another application to host the debate for the 2016 election.