College kids hit the big time at conventions
Erica Tomaszewski was jostling through reporters for a word with former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani and shaking hands with actor Jon Voight.
Robert Michaelson was an arm’s length away from news personalities Wolf Blitzer and Anderson Cooper while Sen. Barack Obama delivered a speech that still has people talking.
While most college students were moving into dorms, buying books and preparing for the new semester, Tomaszewski, of Nashua, and Michaelson, of Brookline, had backstage passes to political history at the recent Republican and Democratic national conventions.
Tomaszewski and Michaelson were among a dozen students selected to represent Franklin Pierce University’s Fitzwater Center of Communication as student media at the conventions. The students wrote stories, videotaped interviews and posted blog entries during the weeklong conventions.
Michaelson, for instance, interviewed Dennis Kucinich, while Tomaszewski covered a Fred Thompson speech.
Kristen Nevious, director of the Fitzwater Center, said the project gave students the opportunity to engage in the political process while asking questions that the audiences at Franklin Pierce and in New Hampshire wanted answered.
Tomaszewski, a Nashua native and 2008 graduate of the Academy of Notre Dame in
turn today after spending a week at the Republican National Convention in Minneapolis.
Tomaszewski described the experience as “an amazing opportunity,” adding, “How many people get to do something like this in a lifetime?”
And Tomaszewski, a mass communication major, took full advantage of the opportunity. Although she was the only freshman to cover either convention, she wasn’t afraid to make her presence known.
In fact, while on a bus early in the week, Tomaszewski overheard Texas delegates discussing a benefit for the Hispanic Leadership Fund and the Red Cross. Eager to go, she approached the delegates and introduced herself.
“Before I knew it, they offered me eight tickets,” she explained. “A bunch of us got to go; it was pretty cool.”
Tomaszewski’s group was also able to track down a floor pass, meaning that for part of the night that was capped with vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin’s speech, Tomaszewski was floor level with the national media.
“When you’re watching from the seats, you don’t know the extent of how crazy and cutthroat things are down (on the floor),” she explained. “Everyone wants the best photo and the best interview.”
And, although she worked hard to do her job with a level of professionalism, it was tough to ignore the star-struck teenager inside.
“Everywhere you turn, there’s someone important,” Tomaszewski said, adding that Connecticut Sen. Joe Lieberman walked past her minutes before she spoke to The Telegraph.
Tomaszewski also recounted her meeting with MTV News anchor Sway Calloway.
“I shook his hand and told him that I was going to take his job someday,” Tomaszewski said.
With all of the experiences in Minneapolis, there are other experiences she is missing on the Franklin Pierce campus. Still, Tomaszewski willingly sacrificed move-in day and freshman orientation, saying, “It’s an amazing trade that can’t even compare.”
Michaelson, a junior majoring in mass communications, covered the Democratic National Convention in Denver two weeks ago, when he spent time blogging and compiling YouTube clips to provide a behind-the-scenes look at the goings-on.
“The trip was fantastic,” said Michaelson, managing editor of The Broken Arrow, Franklin Pierce’s student-run newspaper. “Nothing can really describe it. . . . Just amazing.”
A 2006 graduate of Hollis/Brookline High School, Michaelson was encouraged by how eager professional journalists and politicians were to talk to the student media.
“They didn’t treat us any differently just because we were students; it was great,” Michaelson said.
Michaelson, who recently added a minor in political science, also recognized the Democratic convention’s historical significance – the first time either political party has nominated an African-American for president.
“It was just amazing to be that close to history,” he said. “To be rubbing shoulders with high-profile news anchors while (Obama) gave that speech was just incredible.”
Michaelson, who conceded he didn’t know rock star Melissa Ethridge even existed before the DNC, was more star-struck by the national media.
“Meeting with them and talking with them was great,” Michaelson said. “Just to see how they’re (covering the convention) built my experience.”
Fitzwater Center director Nevious said the students were selected from three groups: Fitzwater scholars, members of the Pierce Media Group and those who had done similar coverage during the New Hampshire primary.
The Fitzwater scholarship is a distinction given to freshmen entering the communications department with exceptional academic records. Tomaszewski won this scholarship in the spring, as did Michaelson before his freshman year.
The Pierce Media Group is the on-campus association in charge of the FPU television station. Michaelson is involved in the Pierce Media Group, as well, acting as the news director and often anchoring newscasts.
For the students, the days usually started early, having breakfast with the New Hampshire delegates, and ended late with blogging until after midnight.
The blogs were posted on WMUR.com. Each group met with Doug Perry, WMUR’s digital executive producer, before leaving for its respective convention. Perry took this time to go over the logistics of posting blogs on the site while also advising the students how to cover the convention.
“We were looking for a more behind-the-scenes look from the students,” Perry said. “For the blogs, I just said, ‘We are interested in what you are interested in.’ ”
Perry said he was impressed with the students’ work, adding, “They got some really cool stuff.”
Franklin Pierce also partnered with the New Hampshire Union Leader. The newspaper and WMUR jumped on board after the school announced the project.
Some student writing, such as Michaelson’s report on the governor of Arizona’s breakfast with state delegates, got bylines in The Union Leader and The Broken Arrow.
Along with the resume-boosting advantage of being published in professional media outlets, Nevious noticed the students learned a lot about becoming involved and aware of politics.
“I think they’ve done a marvelous job,” she said. “They’ve really engaged in the process. They’ve realized that you don’t have to be a Republican or a Democrat or be an activist to be more engaged in the political process.”
Michaelson is grateful for the experience and hopes other students get the same chance four years from now.
“I hope students who are interested in doing things outside of the classroom get this opportunity,” Michaelson said.
For Tomaszewski, however, there’s one problem: adjusting to college life.
“I really have no idea how I’m going to leave this,” she said. “I don’t know how I’m going to go from covering this to being a student, taking classes and doing homework in Rindge, New Hampshire. I don’t know. I mean, it doesn’t seem as exciting.”