The challenges and privileges of being a White House Correspondent

Bloomberg's Margaret Talev talks to Laura Nichols about life on board Air Force One and how reporting from Inside the Beltway has changed due to the explosion of social media

The challenges and privileges of being a White House Correspondent

Margaret Talev
White House correspondent
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Is there a typical day for you?
A normal day might involve getting up about 6am, reading The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, our wire service competition, Politico, watching the news, getting informed, and then coming into the White House and covering anything from the president’s movements on a given day to a briefing.

A different kind of typical day is on the road, domestically. Another would be a foreign trip, which might be a 21-hour day.

White House coverage tends to go in cycles. In the beginning of the administration, for the first six months or so, you’re drinking from the fire hose. A new president has new appointees, they are rolling out policies, and asking Congress to work with them. It is a massive crush of stuff.

Toward the end of an administration, it is a different pace. They’re down to a half dozen issues they are trying to take across the finish line.

What are the challenges?
One is the advent and explosion of social media. As a journalist, it gives you a great opportunity to get your stories out faster to bigger audiences, but it also gives the White House both the temptation and the avenue to try and bypass media filters to tell their stories the way they want them told, which isn’t really journalism.

One thing my political news colleagues and I have had to work at is how to get as much information as possible and in as timely a fashion as possible, so we are crafting and shaping the news, rather than having to rely on the White House for information and photographs.

The old values of journalism are still essential today – freedom of the press, access to information, the ability to get questions answered by the government – because you’re telling information on behalf of people.

How does the press pool work on Air Force One?
There’s a press cabin with 13 seats in the pool and the members accompany President Barack Obama on his foreign and domestic moves.

We go through an elaborate screening process at Andrews Air Force Base with the Secret Service where we’re scanned and sniffer dogs go through our equipment and bags.

You can get cynical about a lot of things when it comes to covering American politics or the White House, but there are two things that are true for most political reporters: When you walk through the White House gates, you know you are in a special place and it’s a privilege to cover it.

And every time you board Air Force One, it’s impossible not to feel a bit humbled as it is such a symbol of America and where decision-making and politics come together.

How have past roles prepared you for covering the White House?
My first full-time job was in a suburb of Tampa, and I covered everything from police to the winter strawberry festival. I also covered the first months of Jeb Bush’s governorship in Florida, the end of Democratic control in that state, and the rise of the Republican Party. 

Then I moved to California and worked for the Los Angeles Times and The Sacramento Bee and covered Arnold Schwarzenegger’s rise to governor of California.

Covering politics at the state level prepares you for covering Congress and the White House. Also, reporting on old-fashioned, general assignment news gets you ready for real life and helps you understand there is a world outside the Democratic and Republican parties, elections and primaries, and political scandals.

How does your job description change in the wake of election season?
In 2007 and 2008, I covered Obama’s campaign as a candidate reporter. I lived on the bus. When my clothes got dirty, I threw them out and bought new ones at Target. I’m not doing that this time, as I mostly stay at the White House, but I also go on the road to cover interesting elements of the campaign.

In the final year of an administration’s time in the White House, it is a time of transition where we juggle coverage of the outgoing government and possible successors.

When a new leader comes in, you tend to have both the continuity of coverage from the folks that regularly cover the White House full time and the influx of campaign reporters who may have covered a candidate who has been elected president.

It’s important to have that mix of people who know the team that supports an incoming president, but also to have the reporters who understand how the news cycle works at any White House.

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