By Katy Steinmetz
Washington, D.C. (May 4, 2010) — Saturday night was all red carpet and A-list haze for the 10 Missouri School of Journalism students attending the annual White House Correspondents’ Association dinner in Washington D.C. The lucky few were the recipients of $2,500 scholarships that came with invites to the gala affair, as well as passes to a VIP reception beforehand and on-stage congratulatory hugs with Michelle Obama. (The latter were even nationally televised, albeit by C-SPAN, but televised nonetheless.
Missouri journalism students pose with comedian Jay Leno at the WHCA dinner. Photo by Nick McClellan.
Approximately 3,000 journalists, politicians and the otherwise notable attend the dinner, now the pinnacle of the D.C. social calendar, each year. The event has been in ascendancy since 1920, and students became an integral part of the evening in 1991 when the association started giving scholarships. This year, $132,500 was given to 18 students from five universities to help them finish their degrees.
As the recipients waited backstage to be introduced, WHCA board member Steve Scully emphasized the importance of the gifts: “Now this night gets a lot of attention for a lot of reasons,” he said. “But what we’re about to do is probably the most important. For nearly 20 years, this organization has been giving back to the journalism community as a way to really try to help those young people, the best and the brightest.” And by that he meant, of course, students from Mizzou, who composed more than 50 percent of the best and brightest that evening.
Before and after the dinner, the Mizzou students made sure to take advantage of the star power present, while also reflecting on the importance of their watchdog profession – and how the perks help compensate for entry-level salaries that lend themselves to the eating of much canned food.
At the reception, members of the group first hobnobbed with epic correspondent Helen Thomas. They then had their photo taken with Jay Leno, the comedian who would later find it impossible to follow the cutting-edge comedic talents of President Barack Obama. Two of the students who were considering telling jokes to the president also asked Leno for a comedy consult; he advised against.
Each student had a chance to meet the first couple and pose for what would become, arguably, the greatest Facebook photos of all time, and the notable encounters continued throughout the evening: Jenny Rogers high-fived Chace Crawford, the Gossip Girl star whose sister attended our illustrious alma mater; Liz Lucas enjoyed some intimate chat with Richard Schiff, i.e. Toby Ziegler on West Wing; Katy Steinmetz sidled up with the entrancingly smug Alec Baldwin; and Chris Dieterich let his hand lightly linger on the small of the radiant first lady’s back. All in all, the students’ schmoozing was at its best.
Jenny Rogers with President and Mrs. Obama at the WHCA dinner.
Katy Steinmetz poses with actor Alec Baldwin.
The students had a chance to practice their mingling at a luncheon held in their honor the day before. After the meal, the WHCA held a panel during which White House correspondents discussed the quirks of their profession and how they came to cover the most famous home in the country. Panelists included Fox‘s Major Garrett, BJ ’84, NBC‘s Savannah Guthrie, Talking Points Memo‘s Christina Bellantoni, The Atlantic‘s Ron Brownstein and CBS‘ Mark Knoller, a veteran reporter and the unofficial keeper of presidential data who was honored by the WHCA this year.
The dinner also followed the students’ much more sustained privilege of working in Washington for their final semester of graduate school, under the tutelage of renowned UPI reporter Wes Pippert. The $2,500 triggered a full waiving of tuition and other costs as the students completed their professional projects, capstone work that combines hands-on experience and a research paper. The individuals and their placements were as follows:
- 2009 Fall Semester: Rose Raymond worked at NPR, while Mark Stanley toiled away at the Center for Democracy and Technology.
- 2010 Spring Semester: Chris Dieterich covered financial news at the daily American Banker; Elizabeth Lucas homed her data research skills at Scripps-Howard; and Nick McClellan blogged away at think tank Center for American Progress. Jenny Rogers covered current events at Slate, while Sananda Sahoo followed world news at McClatchy Newspapers and Katy Steinmetz worked at Time magazine. Hayley Tsukayama worked for the Washington bureau of her home paper, the Minneapolis Star Tribune, and Joel Walsh reported for the Orange County Register.
Updated: August 15, 2019