Post Mortem: Thoughts on what worked and how to improve it for next year.

After all the meetings, I am back home and reflecting on what we accomplished and what we didn’t.  We were asked to speak to the Foundation board members on Friday and tell them of our experiences.

Daily front pages at Newseum
Daily front pages at Newseum

It’s easy to go back after the fact and see the strengths of the program and those items that would require a bit of adjustments before the next crop of new faces hit the DC streets.

The communication within the organization was tremendously on target.  We consistently received emails from the organizers that kept us ‘in the know.’  However, there were a few missteps in the communication.  At one point, we received an email that appeared to change our focus from gun control to another issue.  As it turns out, this was in line with what the foundation members were working on and caused a bit of confusion – for me at least.

Because of the sequestration cuts, our White House visit was nixed and something else replaced the visit.  That was certainly not something that the organizers could possibly have foreseen.  The schedule changes required us to be flexible in our meeting time requests with the political offices. What caused difficulty was the amount of time traveling and walking to and from places, especially Capitol Hill. While a three hour time-slot for senate and house visits may have seemed enough, the time needed to check in through security and to find our way to the various offices was not long enough.  We were often moving from one appointment to the next with less time than was necessary to complete the task.  Or at least not enough time to travel from place to place.

Washington Monument
Washington Monument

One of the things I found in need of retooling was the scheduling in advance of our arrival.  When the email arrived stating that we needed to contact our senators and house rep, I reached out to several of the politician’s offices and only received responses back from one. Certainly it didn’t surprise me, as I am currently working on a class project that required us to contact our state representatives and my classmates and I received a very low rate of return communication.

It is one of the issues of being a journalist, according to more than one of my mentors, that we wouldn’t necessarily receive a return call from a contact’s office.  As a matter of fact, I was told that my house representative’s staffer would speak to me, but only off the record.  As a journalist, I was rather put off by that request.  Interestingly enough, we were held up in a meeting with the VP’s press secretary and I had to cancel the appointment after all.

One of the mentors, I want to say it was Doug Anstaett, held a conference call with his students he mentored to discuss the upcoming event.  I think this would have been a great way to start the program and get all members on the same track.  Additionally, it would have offered the students the opportunity to ‘meet’ one another and begin a dialog between each other and their mentors.

The hosted events at The Newseum, the Gallup Poll and the National Press Club were the highlights of the visit.  These are definite keepers for future events.  For me as a journalist, the Newseum was a great way of bringing the focus of journalism into one spot and allowing me to see the history of my chosen field. The Gallup Poll meeting was an interesting way to provide budding journalist with another tool in their research.  As one of my professors would say, it makes us a half inch taller than our competition having that tool in our toolkit.  The National Press Club visit should continue to delight any budding journalist for its history and how it plays a large part in our landscape for press conferences in DC.

These things look impossible to master, but I want to try it!
These things look impossible to master, but I want to try it!

The greatest aspect of this program was the introduction of a mentor into the mix.  The expertise and advice of each member was paramount to the understanding of the tasks and expectations.  Their wisdom and guidance provided each of the students with a lifeline into the crazy political waters of DC.   Each brought an individual style and strength to the program.  Stan Schwartz and Mark Magyar both had great knowledge of DC and were both eager to share stories (how lobbyist got their name was the best). Doug Anstaett’s wisdom and humor kept us enlightened and laughing.  Liz Parker became the mother figure for all of us and was the intellectual center for the group.  When we were able to see him, Allen Beerman became the center of our universe, sharing stories and providing us with the benefit of his experience and connections.

In all, I feel that the program was very eye-opening into the way politics and the press maneuver to create relationships for their individual gain.  In as much as I think that the journalism aspect of DC would be extremely exciting, I can see how developing those relationships can be challenging.

It is my hope that this program will continue to grow and allow other students the benefit of this experience. Maybe one day I will be one of the mentors and can share this experience with a future journalist.

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