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The Time I Got My Own Seat

By Makena Kelly

A few weeks ago, after I had straggled my way back from the Federal Communications Commission, my editor walked up to me and said, “Welcome back. I have another story for ya’.”

Whenever my editor tells me that I get excited.

He assigned me to cover an Energy and Commerce Committee hearing on anti-doping. A little boring—not really in my jurisdiction. I don’t know much about no sports. But, more excitingly so, 28 gold medalist Michael Phelps was going to be testifying.

What?

They’re sending the intern out to do this?

Yep. They sent me.

So, that Tuesday I went to work a little early and did a little pre-write because I knew I wouldn’t be able to focus throughout the entire thing. I studied past legislation. How much money does Congress appropriate to the Olympics? Who are all these people who are not Michael Phelps? How do I turn this into a policy story?

I rolled up to Rayburn House Office Building that Tuesday morning wearing an outfit I was proud of. Who knew if I was going to be on TV?

In the corner of the press section was a little chair with a white piece of printer paper. It said, “Reserved: Makenna Kelly, CQ”. Ok. They spelled my name wrong, but having a reserved seat in a packed house of fanatic Congressmen was pretty cool.

And, the hearing began. It was the standard Chairman and Ranking Member remarks. These Congresspeople didn’t have any specific policy-centered questions prepared—you could tell they had this hearing just so they could meet Phelps. Eh, I don’t blame them.

Leaders from various Olympics and anti-doping organizations spoke and gave sly, grief-ridden remarks to each other out of the corners of their mouths.

Michael Phelps gave his personal testimony. It was pretty standard to say the least, but the press went bonkers. Camera people were all over the place; ESPN, C-SPAN, CNN. You name it, they were crouched on the floor looking for the perfect angle of the most-adorned Olympian of all time.

And throughout all of the hubbub, I had to write my story and have it in before the hearing was over.

There’s something you learn on Capitol Hill after a few months that no one really tells you about. You learn how to stop listening. At some point, you need to be able to close your ears and write, because Congresspeople love to say the same things over and over again.

So, that’s what I did.

And by the end of the story, I realized there was no policy angle. This committee invited Michael Phelps to the Capitol with no plan for legislation. I was angry. They seriously just wanted to have a cool hearing with an Olympian.

Right when I was thinking that, Chairman Murphy adjourned the hearing and the press secretary walked over to my seat and said, “Press availability afterwards.”

So, I threw my computer in my backpack in an angry fit thinking, “I am going to have a clip where I quote Michael Phelps, God damn it!”

And, I rushed to the front of the press pool. The reporters in front of cameras asked questions first—all focused to Phelps. And after a few questions there was a little silence and I blurted out, with ESPN and C-SPAN cameras pointing at me:

“Excuse me, Chairman Murphy, what does Congress plan to do though? What is the next step in enforcing these anti-doping rules?” I asked.

Chairman Murphy said something to the effect of, “Oh, we’ll have another hearing in a few months and see what happens.”

In typical Congressional fashion.

I wrote my story, spoke with my editor, and threw together somewhat of a policy-oriented lede and it was published.

And now, I get to say that the most decorated Olympian in history, Michael Phelps, had to step aside from the limelight so I could be on television over him. Just so I could ask a question to a Congressman.

The Election Night No One Expected

By Lauren Gantenbein

A few weeks ago during a Friday discussion centered around politics, a political journalist guest speaker told our class, “The election is over.” I think the majority of us, no matter what side you are on, thought the same thing. However, the election night took us all by surprise.

Election Tuesday was a day I had been looking forward to for a very long time. Instead of coming to Washington, D.C. during the summer, I decided on the fall so I could see what an election was like in our nation’s capital – especially after attending debates for both Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton back home in Wisconsin, hearing many guest speakers from news sources such as CNN talk about the election, and working for a communications firm focused on driving social change on progressive issues. With so much time and anticipation, I couldn’t believe election day was finally here.

I began the election day with lots of coffee. At my internship, most of my work was focused on the election, but by 5pm that evening, I headed to CQ/Roll Call where nine of us from WMI volunteered to help call the House and Senate races so they could get the news out and begin writing articles as soon as possible. Each of us were assigned about 9 states to call and some worked exclusively on finding race results via Twitter.

We were all anxious, working diligently and amped up on sugar and caffeine as the night began. Working in a newsroom during election night was fascinating, from people running around making sure that everything was running smoothly to the students feeling excited to be a part of this historic night. In the newsroom there is absolutely no bias. As the night continued, no matter how we felt about the results coming in, we had to stick to doing our job and getting the information right. Sometimes it was hard not to cheer or cry, but we had to keep a straight face. To me, working in the newsroom was the perfect way to spend election night because the main stress we had was making sure we were calling the results as soon as they came in. We were also the first to know who won the House/Senate races from our home states and around the entire country, which are often forgotten races for many in the wake of a presidential election.

We left CQ/Roll Call once the House/Senate races were called around 1:30am ET, but before Donald Trump was named President-elect. After we left our job for the evening, we decided to head to the White House to see how the people of Washington, D.C. felt on election night. Ninety two percent of voters in D.C. voted for Hillary Clinton, so it comes to no surprise that the majority of the action was protests against Trump – with a couple of “Make America Great Again” hats in the crowd and protesters climbing trees outside the White House. From Black Lives Matter chants to rainbow flags flying through the air, tears of joy, fear, and sadness filled the outside of the White House. As the journalism students that we are, we took in the history around us by taking pictures, taking videos, and just observing what was happening on this historic night.

The next day, the only thing heard throughout the city was talk of the election. There was shock over the results, many were fearful of our country, and some believed that this is the change the U.S. needed. People talked about this on the metro, on their walk to work, and even in the local CVS. Anywhere you went in D.C. it was a topic of conversation, and it still is two week later, with protests still taking place in front of the Trump Hotel.

The 2016 election was anything but ordinary and I could not be more thankful to have experienced it in our nation’s capital. While the results shocked the nation, it has been amazing and fascinating to see the reaction right here in D.C. Thank you to WMI for providing the opportunity to talk to many journalists involved in politics on both sides, and to encourage us all to fully embrace what D.C. has to offer during the presidential election.

Originally posted November 22, 2016