Viewpoint: How a presidential press conference taught me to take chances


ARCC student Mara Meyer prepares to cover President Barack Obama's Feb. 26 press conference at Union Depot in St. Paul. COURTESY MARA K. MEYER

ARCC student Mara Meyer prepares to cover President Barack Obama's Feb. 26 press conference at Union Depot in St. Paul. COURTESY MARA K. MEYER

ARCC student Mara Meyer prepares to cover President Barack Obama’s Feb. 26 press conference at Union Depot in St. Paul. COURTESY MARA K. MEYER

By Mara K. Meyer
Campus Eye contributor

In high school, I enjoyed working on the school newspaper as an arts editor and editor-in-chief. However, I never dreamed I would have the opportunity to cover a high-interest story on our president speaking in Minnesota, let alone be a part of the press.

President Barack Obama came to St. Paul’s Union Depot on Feb. 26 to speak about his plan to raise the minimum wage and increase employment by rebuilding and creating more transportation systems around the country. The president highlighted Union Depot, which will serve as a regional transit hub, connecting light rail, buses and long-distance buses.

This semester, I decided to take a journalism class on media writing and needed to find a breaking news event to attend. I wanted to find something out of the ordinary, an event I wouldn’t forget. I came across a link about the president visiting Minnesota. After a few days, I found a link for the press to apply to the White House to attend the event. I figured, why not try to apply? I was pretty certain I would not get approved, but the worst they could do was say no.

The next day, I received a confirmation e-mail. I was still not fully convinced I was going to be let in the event. It’s not like I’m publicly important or pursuing a career in journalism. I am just a college student taking a class in journalism.

The day of the event, I walked in certain I would not be let inside. All I had to do was apply as press on the White House Web site. It just seemed too easy. I nervously headed towards the press line and a volunteer approached me and said, “Are you Mara? We’ve been waiting for you.” Completely shocked, I followed her up to the security check-in.

The security was very tight and Secret Service agents were everywhere. Even though the volunteer was expecting me, I still wasn’t positive they would let me inside. I have a pacemaker that cannot go through metal detectors or it will cause the battery to lose its charge. In order to be let into the event, I had to receive a public pat-down by an uncomfortable male guard. I didn’t mind too much, I was just happy to be let inside.

As I walked toward the event, voices got louder and louder and echoed through the giant hall. The crowd was buzzing with excitement, while the reporters stood off to the side not fazed at all by the president coming. To them, covering stories like this is not uncommon.

As the room filled up, audiences members tried pushing through the crowd to get closer to Obama. The room was so packed, a woman collapsed right in front of the reporters while trying to escape through the mass of people. And of course, cameras flashed like crazy. I felt embarrassed for this lady. Her picture was all over the news. The reporter next to me said, “We are all a bunch of vultures aren’t we?” It was hard to disagree. That part of the event was difficult for me to watch. I had to walk away and work on my interviews.

Part of my assignment was to interview people attending the event for their reactions. Before the president spoke, I approached a man as he was tying his shoe on a bench. I asked him if it would be okay if I asked him a few questions and he agreed. Even though he said it was okay, it was pretty obvious how much he wanted to tell me off. I thought it was pretty funny.

After President Obama gave his speech, people I asked to interview would run up to me and preach politics. As if they were going to be famous and the whole world was going to read their brilliant insight in the newspaper the next morning. The part I enjoyed most was interviewing a 16- year-old named Asher Bernards, who was taking his 11-year-old brother, Owen, to see the president speak. These two were my favorite to interview, because simply they were just excited to see the president in person and to witness history.

The crowd was anxious for Obama to speak. Audience members were holding their cameras above the stream of people taking pictures of an empty podium. They would stare up at the media, waiting for them to take pictures aggressively. The crowd knew the media would let them know when the president had arrived.

All of a sudden, “Hail to the Chief,” started playing loudly, while cameras flashed and the audience roared with applause. It was so loud you could barely hear Obama give his speech. I found it difficult not to get too swept up in the excitement of it all. I had to keep reminding myself I had things to accomplish.

For me, attending this event was not about politics or whether I agree or disagree with the president. It had nothing to do with that. Not everyone has the opportunity to see the president speak in person. Doing this assignment taught me to take chances, even when I think it is impossible. I never would have been able to have this experience without taking the chance and trying something I never thought I would be capable of doing. Covering this event was an amazing opportunity and I am so glad I took advantage of it!