Naked Opinion

The White House Briefing Room Through The Lenses Of The Young Voice

Sayeh Yousefi White House briefing room
Copyright William Moon

My White House Press Corps Internship for The Pavlovic Today, working as a journalist at the pinnacle spot of political reporting, brought with it a revelation of the real power of democracy.

For the past year, as Editor of Naked Opinion at The Pavlovic Today, I’ve been close to the source of the news, writing briefs from the White House press pool reports and engaging with political topics of concern for my generation, but never have I been this close to the source of breaking news.

Yuma
President’s departure to Joint Base Andrews

On my first day in the White House Press Corps, I got the opportunity of covering the President’s departure to Joint Base Andrews – the closest proximity I’ve ever been to the institution of the American President and also the first I’d ever seen him in person. Standing on the White House South Lawn, right beside the famous Rose Garden, pooled tightly with the rest of the press corps, was certainly overwhelming for my second day in D.C.

That same day, I joined in a conference call “background briefing” on President Trump’s visit to Yuma, Arizona, at 7:45 AM and the previous night was covering the President’s Address to the Nation at 9 PM.

Quickly I realized the working hours for this job are not easy or straightforward, and you always have to be prepared to respond quickly and to still produce high-quality and accurate articles with little to no time to prepare.

On the third day of my internship at the White House Press Corps, I was starting to acclimatize to the intensity of the White House news reporting and was writing articles much faster. At 11:45 AM I had to jump on the background briefing of the newly announced Venezuela sanctions, while simultaneously learning about “embargo” rules – withholding the release of information to the public until a set time. However, this day presented a new ‘journalism challenge’, as for the first time, I was to attend and report the daily press briefing with Press Secretary Sarah H Sanders.

I walked into James S. Brady Press Briefing Room with Ksenija Pavlovic, Editor in Chief of The Pavlovic Today about an hour ahead of briefing start time. I had a chance to speak to some seasoned journalists, John Gizzi, Brian Karim, Raquel Krahenbuhl, as broadcasters walked past and technicians rushed to set up their sound and audio systems. The White House press corps members were scrambling to find a spot in the already crowded room.

Experiencing, in person, from such a young perspective, the focal point of politics and news was eye-opening in several regards.

Uncertainty and unpredictability of the White House breaking news
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Sayeh Yousefi, White House Press Corps Intern at the briefing; Photo: William Moon

The inner workings of the White House appeared to be far less glamorous than their romanticised concepts would make them appear in popular culture. The briefing room itself is quite small, and packed to the maximum capacity with chairs; even then not providing near enough room for all the journalists who are hovering by the door or leaning against the white paned windows stills.

One of my first observations was the air of uncertainty and unpredictability surrounding the delivery of breaking news coming from the White House.

With the briefing still hours away, members of the press corps were loitering around the room, making small-talk or catching up with colleagues. As we received a two-minute warning before the Press Secretary’s arrival at the podium, the atmosphere suddenly became tense. The White House briefing room grew increasingly impatient, but the chatter and noise all ceased to total silence the second Press Secretary Sanders walked to the podium.

I was situated, quite tightly, between an AP camera-woman, and my editor, scarcely having found enough space to bring out my laptop to take notes during the briefing. Though already grateful enough to even be in the room, I could sense that despite the incredibly arduous and selective process to gain access to the briefing room in itself, the battle for information access has not yet been won when you get your press accreditation.

The power to shape the news

This internship in the White House Press Corps for The Pavlovic Today was simultaneously an empowering and humbling experience. Finding myself at the source of information, being present the moments before the news becomes the news, goes beyond just a learning opportunity.

Being in the White House briefing room means having the power to shape the news, to transmit and present the primary source information in whatever way you want. This power can be manipulated far too easily.

As with any profession, competition and stakes in journalism are high. It’s easy and quick to become enthralled with ratings, view counts, and coming up with the catchiest headlines instead of truthfully and accurately relaying the news to the general public. But as I’ve learned, and as my own personal conviction has been confirmed by my mentor, the Editor in Chief, Ksenija Pavlovic, “good journalism always has to be concerned with getting the truth out in an informed and accurate way”. That’s the core of this profession.

Critical thinking in the modern day flux of news

One of my biggest realizations as a “young voice” in the White House briefing room, was becoming aware of how much trust my generation puts in the hands of the people and outlets it receives news from.

This is a generalization, but most youth nowadays get their news off social media, if not, then either conservative or progressive news outlets. This means taking in and believing, every word we read in the news, without bothering to compare this news with other outlets, let alone to criticize it.

afghanistan
McMaster in the White House Briefing Room; Photo: William Moon

During the second White House Press Briefing I attended, I got the opportunity to hear directly from U.S. National Security Advisor, General McMaster. Standing in that room, listening to General McMaster speak, watching his mannerisms and hand gestures, seeing how the press corps reacted, brought with it a striking and concerning realization of how blind, I myself had been, to the dangers of reporting in the modern day flux of news and political chaos.

I easily could have been watching excerpts of this briefing online, hearing about how General McMaster was disregarding racial tensions in the U.S., rather than hearing him speak in person about the “outcome-based approach” he deemed necessary for the Afghanistan strategy.

Later that day, logging onto Facebook and being swarmed with hundreds of headlines about Trump being hypocritical in his approach to Afghanistan, made me realize how much mainstream news is really just opinion-pieces, carefully disguised as objective reporting.

Accessing information before it becomes the news

What was it like for a young person in the White House Press Briefing room, having access to the information before it became the news? Both disheartening and inspiring. Disheartening in the sense that it made me realize how quickly and easily information can be manipulated to create the news we all intake.

Inspiring in realizing how in a democracy, anything really is possible – and in a world of endless possibility, we get to choose whether we will feed into the morphed version of the news the mainstream media tries to shove down our throats. Or whether we, as a generation of freethinkers, will choose to question and criticize everything that comes our way, to move past the catchy titles and funny video clips, and committedly pursue the real truth, in a world far too obsessed with the illusion of it.

We, the generation of youth, shouldn’t be content with only being consumers of the news. We should, at the very least, remain engaged with news production and the political process by challenging and criticizing our sources – to not be bystanders to the news as it unfolds.

I hope to continue doing this, and encourage my peers to do so as well, as Editor of the Naked Opinion with The Pavlovic Today – a platform that remains committed to empowering youth to directly engage with global affairs.

 

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About the author

Sayeh Yousefi

Sayeh Yousefi

Sayeh Yousefi is the Editor of Naked Opinion section of The Pavlovic Today. She is a Loran Scholar 2016, Yale Young Global Scholar 2015, and passionate human rights advocate. She's currently studying at the Munk School of Global Affairs, at the University of Toronto. Throughout her life, she's had the privilege of living in many different countries, including Iran, the UAE, the United Kingdom, and Canada. Exposure to such diversity, and witnessing injustices, whether it be on the news or in person, has fuelled her passion to help improve conditions for victims of human rights violations. Sayeh hopes to be able to encourage youth to become more involved in global affairs and become more engaged in issues of human rights and social justice. Sayeh believes this can best be done through the digital world of writing.

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