Missouri Journalism Students Join White House Press Corps on President’s Visit to the State

Columbia Missourian, KOMU-TV and KBIA-FM Reporters Deliver National News in Real Time to Mid-Missourians

White House Press Corps Pass
White House Press Corps Pass

Columbia, Mo. (Aug. 8, 2013) — It was – and wasn’t – business as usual when Missouri School of Journalism reporters and photographers covered President Barack Obama’s visit to Warrensburg on July 24. He spoke at the University of Central Missouri to address the nation on economic policy.

There was the usual preparation reporters do beforehand: monitor Twitter to discern public sentiment, background the topic, watch the president’s past speeches, discover facts about the location and the like.

But this story required a few extra steps.

Air Force One
KOMU-TV reporters Devon Fasbinder and James Parham stand near Air Force One.

Reporters had to apply for press credentials through the White House days ahead of time. They had to arrive six hours before the start of the speech, pass through security inspection by a man and sniffer dog, and then wait for hours in a confined area for the action to begin. Trips to the restroom required a Secret Service escort.

In this story Missouri Journalism reporters and photographers share their experiences of covering a speech by the nation’s top executive.

Covering the Story for the Columbia Missourian

The experience was a dream four years in the making for Columbia Missourian photojournalist Megan Donohue, a senior from Chino Hills, Calif. While touring the school on a campus visit during her senior year in high school, her guide pointed out a photo of Obama that had been taken by a student photojournalist. The guide spoke about how Missouri Journalism students were privileged to have been able to photograph in such professional situations. Donohue remembers being “slightly in awe” of the photo and hoped for such an opportunity.

Megan Donohue
Columbia Missourian reporter Danielle Renton captures quotes for her story. Photo by Megan Donohue, Columbia Missourian.

“Standing with the national press and taking the photo I had thought about for years really brought my college career full circle, and I think it will remain one of the huge, defining moments of my early photojournalism career for a long time to come,” Donohue said.

Similarly, when Danielle Renton saw the Missouri Method of hands-on training in real-media news outlets in action during a tour, she decided to transfer to the Missouri School of Journalism.

“The day that I got to cover Obama’s speech, I felt emotional when I thought about what it would have been like if I had stayed at my old school,” Renton said, a junior from Denver. “I would have never been standing on a high riser with members of the national media, scribbling quotes from the president of the United States on my reporter’s notebook as a student.”

Donohue, Renton and other school reporters joined those from Fox, CNN, CBS and other national news outlets in the press area. While waiting for the event to begin, Renton was in a position to see an Associated Press photographer pass the time by selecting the best pictures from a Kansas City Royals game. She also saw reporters from Fox and NBC affiliates go live with several teasers.

Some people from the crowd visited the media space to ask recognizable broadcast personalities to autograph their tickets. The area for the press had a special wifi network and two two-level risers to allow for both front and side views of the podium.

Missouri Students with White House Press Corps
Missouri journalism students worked alongside the White House Press Corps. Photo by Megan Donohue.

All of the Missouri Journalism students covering Obama’s speech wanted their work to stand out in some way.

Donohue looked at the surroundings to see how she might incorporate interesting details into her photographs. She took several wide shots with the mounted flags behind Obama framing the photograph, and then several from the side with the giant UCM sign in the background. Donohue also played with different focuses at the end when he was shaking hands.

“I focused on the cameras people were using so the president was out of focus in the background but you could see his face on the cameras,” Donohue said. “I also focused on the hands reaching for him with him out of focus in front of them.”

Once the event was finished and the reporters were allowed to leave the building, Donohue chose a tight photo of the president speaking and e-mailed it to her photo editor. In less than 20 minutes, the photo was on the front page.

After driving back to Columbia, she loaded all of her photos on the server, tagged the ones she liked and edited them with an editor, selecting a final five for publication and captioning them.

“I was really happy with the five photos that were published,” Donohue said. “I felt like they had good variety and were five of the strongest photos I had taken at the event. It was definitely a thrill to see my gallery of photos of the President of the United States in publication once everything was done.”

Lakshna Mehta
Columbia Missourian reporter Lakshna Mehta takes notes during the president’s speech. Photo by Megan Donohue.

Missourian reporter Lakshna Mehta sent out numerous live tweets during the speech, realizing that the speech wasn’t the news angle.

“The news is what people think of the speech and how that would change or affect their lives,” she said.

“It was our job to go there and report on something different,” Renton said. “We felt it was most important to capture the experience and share the public’s reactions rather than write strictly about what Obama said, which many other media were sure to do.”

Mehta, who rode with Renton, started writing their story on the drive back to Columbia. Mehta typed on her computer while the two shared notes and listened to a recording of the speech to ensure accuracy with the quotes. They finished their story around 10:40 p.m., and the 1,013-word article, “Obama’s Speech Leaves University of Central Missouri Crowd Excited, Inspired,” was published at 11:07 p.m.

The Missouri Journalism students say that the experience of covering the president’s speech in Warrensburg was a great learning experience.

“I no longer experience the anxiety that I used to when talking to complete strangers,” Renton said. “I have more confidence in my journalistic abilities, and I have the reassurance that I am in the right profession.”

Mehta used the assignment to assess her skills as a reporter.

“It required great speed and accuracy to get quotes online and to let people know what is going on while still being accurate, with the live tweeting,” she said.

Donohue compared the experience to a TV series scene.

“Standing in the White House press pool felt unreal, almost as if I had stepped into an episode of The West Wing,” she said. “I feel incredibly blessed to have had this opportunity.”

KOMU-TV Reporter Finds Stories in Coffee Shops and on the Streets

Matt Evans
Matt Evans

KOMU-TV reporter Matthew Evans found his stories in coffee shops and on the streets of Warrensburg, away from the auditorium where President Obama delivered his speech.

Evans, a senior studying radio-television journalism, worked 24 hours straight to cover the story in different ways that he hoped people would find interesting. Most citizens were excited to have the president in town, although there were some detractors.

Here’s a recap of what Evans did and accomplished:

Day Before:

    • Set up an interview with the Warrensburg Chamber of Commerce president for the next day’s morning show.

Day of the Speech:

    • Reported live throughout the morning and noon shows.
    • Shot, edited and wrote two separate packages for the 5 and 6 p.m. newscasts and then fronted both by himself from different locations. All of this work was done in Warrensburg using the station’s mobile newscutter. The stories were submitted on the station’s file server network.
    • Recut a different package for the 9 and 10 p.m. newscasts.

Posted to KOMU by Matt Evans:

Covering the Story for KOMU-TV

KOMU-TV’s coverage of the president’s speech was all about live – on television, on KOMU.com and through social media. Numerous KOMU-TV journalists had the opportunity to cover the president’s visit to Warrensburg.

  • Senior Lucas Geisler reported live during every newscast.
  • Senior Lauren Bale and crew reported live from the president’s speech at the University of Central Missouri.
  • The president’s speech was streamed live on KOMU.com.
  • Senior Devon Fasbinder and crew reported live from Whiteman Air Force Base with Air Force One during the 5 and 6 p.m. news.
  • Senior Matt Evans and crew reported live from off campus to see how the president’s visit impacted the town of Warrensburg. His coverage included a story with a local business owner, and also one with protestors. (See sidebar.)
Lauren Bale
KOMU-TV reporter Lauren Bale reported live throughout the day.

When KOMU learned that the president would be coming to Missouri, the station’s managers and students met to discuss how the station would cover his visit and developed a detailed coverage plan, which included angles to the story and logistics. On-site field producers and camera operators would work closely with those students working at the station’s assignment desk.

Press credentials were required and that meant getting names, social security numbers, and driver’s license numbers for those covering either the speech itself at the Central Missouri or Air Force One’s arrival at Whiteman Air Force Base.

The desire to report live throughout the day from many different locations required much coordination. Managers had to decide who would be reporting live as well as what and how much equipment they would need. KOMU used extra resources, including pulling reporters who were not previously scheduled to work the day of the president’s visit, to work. KOMU also had extra students and staff contributing to live-blog/Web/social media coverage of the event.

“KOMU-TV’s live-blog on the president’s visit was modeled on successful formats used by major news organizations during breaking stories such as Hurricane Sandy, the Boston bombing and the Newtown shooting,” said Annie Hammock, assistant professor and a member of the radio-television journalism faculty.

The president’s delayed arrival – during the 5 p.m. news instead of the 3:25 p.m. original estimate – presented the biggest challenge to the coverage. Producers Taylor Beck, a senior, and Josh Lander, a graduate student, had to make major adjustments to their evening news shows prior to and while they were on air.

Other students who participated in KOMU’s coverage of the president’s speech were James Parham and Michelle Schuelke, field producers; Turner Twyman, photojournalist; Marisa Breese, Eric Hilt, Megan Johnson and Vernonica Polivanaya, producers; and Andrea Gonzalez-Paul and Nick Thompson, digital producers. Matt Johnson, BJ ’05, helped the students in his role as content manager at KOMU.

Coverage of President's July 24 Visit to Warrensburg
Citizens and members of the news media wait for President Obama to arrive. Photo by Megan Donohue.

Covering big stories such as the president’s visit, severe weather and other breaking news prepares students for the kinds of situations they will face in their jobs, “We responded to real-time information from our on-scene reporters and by watching the event unfold on our satellite feed,” Hammock said. “All students involved – both in front of and behind the camera – are responsible for our successful coverage of this major event.”

Covering the Story for KBIA-FM

Senior journalism student Andrew Nichols hoped to gain some radio experience when he signed up to work at KBIA-FM, mid-Missouri’s NPR-member station, as part of a summer independent study course. That experience would include reporting alongside NPR’s Ari Shapiro, NBC’s Kristen Welker and other members of the White House Press Corps to cover a speech by President Obama before the summer was out.

Nichols teamed up with journalism graduate student Harum Helmy, a producer at the station who oversees the newsroom’s Mizzou Advantage-funded Health and Wealth desk.

Nichols said he and Helmy joked about the possibility of meeting Shapiro before they arrived in Warrensburg. Then, minutes before the start of Obama’s speech, Shapiro sat down next to them.

Kristen Welker and Andrew Nichols
NBC’s Kristen Welker and journalism senior Andrew Nichols take time for a photograph while covering the president’s speech.

“We honestly acted like giddy schoolgirls when we met him, but we got to chat with a real NPR correspondent,” Nichols said. “To report on a presidential speech while sitting among the nation’s best journalists was a real treat.”

Helmy and Nichols produced two stories that were shared and possibly aired by public radio stations around the state: Obama Talks Economy, Education at University of Central Missouri and Obama Praises Missouri Innovation Campus Program.

Helmy said that even though the president did not introduce any actual new policy at his speech in Warrensburg, she thought it was important to take note of his compliments for a homegrown Missouri education program.

“I think most national news stories tend to have coastal bias and don’t really try to highlight the good, innovative things that happen in the middle of America,” Helmy said. “It was interesting to hear the president commend the Missouri Innovation Campus so highly. I take joy in reporting that aspect of his speech.”

Nichols realized that his education is already paying off.

“By reporting at a real station, I’ve learned so much and have been equipped with the tools I need to tell a story of national significance to our listeners,” he said.

Updated: July 17, 2020

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