Journalist for a Day: A Student's Experience at the Debate

Photo: Gil Talbot

A garden sprung up on the grass outside Stoutenburgh Gymnasium, with big satellite flowers on stalks of wire and cable. The major networks, camped around the campus in big white microwave trucks, weren’t the only ones covering the debate; the Carr Center was bustling with over 700 news media reporters, journalists, photographers, cameramen, and other team members from all over the world.

Credentialed by ABC News, I was invited to report on the event for the Saint Anselm Crier. I sat in the front row in the press filing room, watched the debate with a room full of experienced journalism teams, and spoke to governors, U.S. representatives and senators, and directors and secretaries of federal offices who endorsed the Republican candidates for the Presidency. It was an amazing, new, and fulfilling experience for me to sit next to representatives from BBC News, to hear the stories of Occupy protesters and the supporters of the Republican candidates, and to communicate in broken Italian with a trio from a news media in Italy.

The 700 reporters were assigned seats along lines of tables set up in front of giant projector screens. In the hours before the debate, Occupy protesters marched on campus, setting up camp in the St. Joan of Arc parking lot. They carried signs and vigil candles, a coffin hoisted on the shoulders of six men, and beat on drums to lament the death of the American Dream. Vermin Supreme, a satirical performance artist who campaigns for the presidency on the platform of zombie awareness and tooth-brushing, joined the ranks of the Occupy Manchester/Saint Anselm movement. Republican supporters who shared the same space as the Occupiers had shouting matches over their favorite presidential candidate. Just like the garden of satellites, the supporters and protesters created a lush and colorful garden of picket signs. Everyone had a story to tell, including a group of Orthodox Jews from overseas protesting Zionism and an advocacy group for programs and services for children.

During the debate, the reporters focused on typing notes; during commercial breaks, discussions on new media outlets, such as Twitter and microblogging, were ubiquitous. Whenever a candidate would offer up an inspiring quote, the reporters gave a satisfied sigh; whenever there was an effective tack or a scathing side-comment, the reporters would laugh and groan. We were an audience beyond those in the seats in the Dana Center’s Koonz Theatre, and we were bringing this news to the rest of the world. It was fascinating, hearing the responses of the news teams as they prepared to write their stories and condense the information for the viewers and readers of their morning news. When the debate ended at eleven, there was a mad rush to the building next door, where we heard and recorded the words of government officials who reacted to the debate and gave support to the Republican candidates; the candidates themselves also joined the spin room, trying to get the press to hear more of their story.

From the moment the giant screens in our press room began airing the debate, I could feel a sense of pride and joy that my school, my little school in quiet New Hampshire, was at the eye of the world of politics. Saint Anselm College was praised by many for being a welcoming host; the spirit of the Benedictine tradition was definitely in the air during the whole debate process. Every journalist, every reporter, had a story to tell that night. In Manchester New Hampshire—at Saint Anselm College—history was made, and I was there to see it.

View all of the videos from the debates:

This post was submitted by Dylan Lindholm.

  • AuntiJ

    Wow! You are a terrific writer!

  • Tom Flynn

    Every four years, New Hampshire returns to the headlines, as the first primary state. And as a Manchester boy far from home,I rejoice in the role my beloved College plays in hosting the debate, and in becoming the headquarters of the political commentary. Well done, Hawks.

    Tom Flynn '57, Piedmont,Ca.