By Maggie Gottlieb ’17
Capital News Service
(Rising senior Maggie Gottlieb will report for CNS this fall.)
COLLEGE PARK, Md. – Access. It’s what our industry is all about. Access to public officials, candidates and the people of interest in the stories our audiences care about.
When I was a freshman, I heard talk that our internship coordinator, Adrianne Flynn, sends student journalists to national presidential conventions to report for Maryland audiences. I was immediately shocked and elated at the possibility, but I never imagined I would be lucky enough to be a part of it.
This week, that doubt was shattered. I traveled to Philadelphia for the Democratic National Convention with Maryland Capital News Service and surprised even myself at the competence and skills with which Merrill student journalists are prepared. Enough so to cover huge national news events and localize it for the folks back home.
Every day is long, and yet last week went by faster than I could have imagined. When we arrived on Saturday evening, we went to the Media Welcome Party hosted in Citizens Bank Park. It was absolutely amazing. We got to go to the in-field for photos, into the dugout and the locker room and to the batting cages for some practice! Plus, free food and drinks – a journalists’ true love.
On Sunday, we picked up our credentials from the Philadelphia Convention Center and explored the famous Reading Terminal Market, which was full of specialty foods, DNC souvenirs and local restaurants. We had some British students from Bournemouth University staying with us, so we had to show them some of Philly!
DAY ONE: STENY HOYER AND WIKILEAKS
Monday morning was full of anxious excitement. Myself and some other CNS reporters went to the first Maryland delegation breakfast to get local reaction on the DNC emails released by WikiLeaks. Coolest moment of the morning: I was talking to a delegate about a possible interview and when I turned around to walk away, House Minority Whip Rep. Steny Hoyer was standing right in front of me and flashed a huge smile!
Later, our entire CNS team headed to the Wells Fargo Center for the first time and saw our workspace. We were stationed right next to the Associated Press, C-SPAN and The Daily Show! I was on deadline with the WikiLeaks story, so I buckled down as soon as we arrived and finished writing my script, tracking narration and editing. I only was able to hear part of First Lady Michelle Obama’s speech because of my deadline, but some other reporters were on the floor for it and got us tons of pictures and signs as souvenirs!
DAY TWO: MIKULSKI AND SANDER’S PROTESTERS
On Tuesday, we received news that Senator Barbara Mikulski of Maryland would be the one to formally enter Hillary Clinton’s name into nomination for president. I headed to the Maryland delegation to do a Facebook Live with Maryland delegates to get their thoughts on having a Maryland local take such an important role in the convention.
Later that day, we were actually working on a Mikulski reaction story when hundreds of Bernie Sanders supporters staged a walkout in protest of Hillary Clinton’s official nomination during the roll call vote. We were lucky enough to be right there with our camera as they marched out of the convention center! As they say: sometimes in journalism, you just get lucky.
Quickly, one story turned into two. We asked Maryland Sanders’ delegates about their reaction to the disruption. The two we spoke with both said they don’t agree with the protest and that the party needs to come together to defeat Republican Donald Trump in November. The protesters proceeded to stage a sit-in near the media tents, clearly signaling their frustration with both the DNC and the press throughout the primary election. I rushed back to the workspace to churn out that protest story while my partner, Jenna Hecker, reported on Mikulski.
DAY THREE: O’MALLEY AND CRAZY HATS
On Wednesday, former Maryland Governor and presidential candidate Martin O’Malley was scheduled to speak. I went to the Maryland delegation to do a Facebook live about what delegates expected to hear from him. It was very hectic trying to speak loud enough into my phone during speakers, not get in anyone’s view of the stage and stand clear of the aisles like the volunteers kept telling me to do. I actually grabbed former Maryland Lieutenant Governor Kathy Kennedy Townsend for an interview! Unfortunately, I had some technical problems that cut our interview short, but it’s safe to say she and the entire Maryland crew were excited to hear from “Daddy O’Malley.”
Later that day, I interviewed more Maryland delegates with their reaction to O’Malley’s speech and finished a taped story late that night. The same day, Jenna and I interviewed Maryland folks with crazy hats – a staple of any great presidential convention!
As we headed home Wednesday, it started to dawn on me how quickly the convention was whizzing by. Thursday was the last day of the convention and the day Hillary Clinton would speak to the country, accepting her nomination for president.
DAY FOUR: MIKULSKI TAKE TWO AND HILLARY CLINTON
We were all exhausted so our faculty leaders agreed that we could start later on Thursday. Around 11, we headed into downtown Philly to grab some highly coveted DNC souvenirs. Unfortunately, traffic was so bad we had to nix that plan and head straight to the convention center so we didn’t get behind on stories.
For a second time, Barbara Mikulski was slated to speak on Thursday. She is the longest serving female in the Senate and the first woman to have won a Senate seat in her own right. She is retiring this year, so the DNC had her speak to emphasize the continuing fight for gender equality, a speech that echoed the groundbreaking and historic nomination of Hillary Clinton. In addition, former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, originally from Baltimore, took the stage to honor Clinton. Jenna and I were ecstatic to have interviews scheduled with both women!
Unfortunately, both interviews fell through, as it sometimes happens. The schedule became jumbled so neither Pelosi or Mikulski came up to the press balcony to talk with us. But there was no point in groveling when we still had to make our story work!
We went up to the network level of the convention center to see the stars and I ran into my former colleagues at CNN Newsource, where I interned during the summer of 2015!
Coincidentally, WJLA-TV in Washington, D.C. is a Newsource affiliate, so Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) was inside the Newsource suite for an interview when we arrived! Van Hollen is the Democratic nominee for Senate to replace Mikulski after her retirement.
As any good journalist would do, we politely excused ourselves and waited outside for the congressman to come out. Lucky for us, he was happy to do an interview about Mikulski and the role Maryland would play in the general election.
We were then informed Pelosi had just taken the stage, so we literally sprinted back down to the press balcony, and were, again, informed she would not be doing her interview. As disappointing as it was, we were happy to have one Maryland lawmaker on camera and we had enough to churn out the story.
Jenna and I had both sacrificed seeing all other keynote speakers (Michelle Obama, President Obama and Bill Clinton) in order to be on the floor of the convention hall during the evening of Hillary Clinton’s speech. This was our moment of excitement (not really, it was Hillary’s, but you get it). We paused our work and rushed from the media center to the convention hall and entered the crowded and chaotic floor pass pick-up area. It took a lot of waiting, brief moments of panic and many texts back and forth, but we both eventually made it onto the floor to see both Chelsea and Hillary Clinton.
As many have said before me, it was a historic night. Regardless of your views on Hillary Clinton as a candidate, her speech that night and the entire convention is a moment America will remember forever and I had the amazing opportunity to be there.
If there is anything this experience taught me, it is that I am more knowledgeable, skillful and competent than I ever thought before I embarked on this journey. My feelings of insecurity about working as a full-time broadcast reporter for CNS next semester have completely vanished. I learned to trust in myself, believe in my own abilities and take a leap of faith.
I cannot thank Merrill College and Capital News Service enough for giving young journalists like myself the chance to report on national presidential conventions, an opportunity even some professional journalists never get. Thank you to our intrepid bureau chiefs, Sue Kopen Katcef and Jim Carroll for guiding us through an exhausting and hectic week with grace and yes, even some fun. And thank you to my partner Jenna, the rest of the CNS crew and the DNC for making last week one I will never, ever forget.