Junior Lauren French participated in a live roundtable TV news interview Tuesday night. This is an essay about her experience.
There is a running media joke about reporters who have “faces made for radio.” Well, I think I have a voice made for print. It’s no secret to those who know me that I tend to speak at a break-neck pace. Debate coaches, teachers and my aunt have told me for years to slow down, but it’s been to no avail.
So as the cameras turned on and the lights went up on my second interview on television this academic year, I tried to remember to speak slowly and not look at the monitor. More importantly, I tried to not misspeak, as PBS was billing me as the voice of the college-aged generation.
Last December, MSNBC's The Daily Rundown had me on to discuss GW’s adoption of gender-neutral housing. Then, the topic was simple, tangible and something I was familiar with. The Hatchet covered gender-neutral housing extensively so I knew the players, the process and the details.
This Tuesday was different. My task on PBS’ NewsHour was to explain how college students – some who rushed to the White House and Ground Zero, others who were more reserved about Osama bin Laden’s death – reacted to the president’s announcement that American forces had killed the al-Qaeda leader. Joined by two other panelists, we were there to explain reactions to the death.
I was asked to speak because of my job at The GW Hatchet. As the editor-in-chief, I directed the paper’s coverage of the rush to the White House. Like the rest of the world, we first heard of bin Laden’s death on Twitter. We also learned from the social media site that a group of students planned to celebrate outside the north gates after President Barack Obama’s speech. I called photographers, reporters and videographers and had them make the six-block trek. Our photographers found students of every political persuasion rejoicing together, holding American flags and chanting “USA.” A student in a full-body American flag suit was leading the crowd in singing the National Anthem. The photos and video the staff produced shows how much energy the revelers had.
After two producers briefed me on the questions I should expect on-air, I went to get made up. Studio lights make you look very pale and washed out if you don’t have a good base on, so their makeup artist sprayed me, literally, with cover-up. I snuck backstage as NewsHour Senior Correspondent Gwen Ifill wrapped up her interview with two Congressmen, to join Senior Correspondent Judy Woodruff and the other on-set panelist. Lights and cameras are everywhere, so you can generally be filmed from any angle.
Being the voice of the “9/11-generation," as Woodruff put it, isn’t easy - especially because I truly believe journalists should strive be objective. So I didn’t talk about my opinions, but focused on the opinions of the people that reporters, photographers and videographers interviewed Monday morning. When Judy asked what bin Laden means for my generation, I had to include quiet a large group in my answer.
I explained that, for lack of a better description, bin Laden was current college student’s first real introduction to evil. At the time of 9/11, college students were anywhere from 8 to 12 years old and had many probably never heard of terrorists before. Bin Laden changed my generation's present and future. We became children of war, whose older siblings or parents went to Iraq and Afghanistan. We saw the national debt rise and our standing in the world decrease in part because of those wars. Our future changed because of bin Laden, and that’s what I was trying to share – that Sunday evening marked the death of the man who changed our world. It’s up to each individual to determine if bin Laden’s death is good or bad or if the reactions of students are positive or negative. I never felt it was my place to cheer or condemn those who celebrated and those who didn’t; I was there to explain the best I could why students made the choices they did.
Judy also asked if students felt safer now that the al-Qaeda leader was dead. Thinking back to those I spoke with, I said ‘no.’ GW students are political and I think most of the masses at the White Houses, and the one who stayed in their dorms or Gelman, know that bin Laden was important but he wasn’t the only threat to America.
I'm not sure how I did, but I guess that’s the power of the Internet. You can decide for yourself.