I have written often about why I love working in journalism. Usually, the conclusion I come back to is that I never know how my day is going to turn out. While this would be incredibly annoying to some, I relish in it. One such day happened in a big way today, August 30th.
This morning I came into work fully prepared to layout my Lifestyles pages as I do every Friday. In addition, today is the day of the annual Beaver-Graham game. For anyone reading from out of our area, first of all, thank you! Second of all, the high schools of the two Bluefield, Virginias have a “rivalry game” of sorts each year. It is a big deal for our small town. I covered it as a reporter last year and people come in for this football game like it is a family reunion each year hundreds pour into Mitchell Stadium for the game.
When I got to my desk this morning, I started to put my bag down as I do each morning when my managing editor, Charles Owens, who was a bit frantic on the phone, asked me to call Bland, Va. government to see if Democratic presidential candidate, Beto O’Rourke was going to be there today. We had received a tip and hadn’t been able to confirm it. I called city government and they weren’t sure what I was talking about, I called around to businesses and finally, the Bland Square Grill confirmed that he was visiting...at any second.
For a moment, we frantically made some calls to photographers and asked around the newsroom for a reporter to cover it but everyone was tied up in Beaver-Graham related content, except me. Charles was still on the phone when I pulled my camera out of my bag and pointed at it and started packing my bag back up. I am a bit of a political junkie, but this is far from the first time my Lifestyles plans have been disrupted by breaking news, and as I’ve said before, I don’t mind.
I headed to Bland, paying attention to the speed limit and attempting to remember some of O’Rourkes big talking points, just in case I had a chance to ask a question. I have dealt with politicians more than a few times in my relatively short career and I knew if I got my shot, I would have to speak quickly. I’ll take this moment to say, please do not take this column as an endorsement of any candidate. I am purely interested in politics. I believe in this column I have referenced them as “my sports” before.
I arrived in Bland and the area around the grill was packed. I circled a few times before I found parking, grabbed my camera, notepad and press credentials and headed in. As gracious as all the staff was, I have to say the press area that was set up for this campaign stop was one of the smallest I have ever encountered. No less than seven journalists and television cameras were crammed around one booth in the small restaurant. I have been that journalist before, that gets there early, sets up my cameras, only for the person who makes it there last second to try to stand in front of me. It is a crappy practice. However, I only beat O’Rourke there by about five minutes. I apologized to all my fellow journalists and promised to squat under all of their camera tripods. I did my best not to move, not to bump into someone and ruin their shot, etc. As soon as I adjusted my camera settings to the fluorescent lighting, O’Rourke arrived. I realized with my short stature that I could kind of “stand” on my knees and still not be in anyone’s way and still get the photographs I needed. After close to an hour in this position, my legs were shaking in pain, but I continued shooting video, photos and taking notes as Beto O’Rourke addressed the group and took questions.
Next, O’Rourke took some time to speak and take photos with the people gathered there. The media (myself included) immediately dispersed to try to talk to the people in attendance. As I tried to stand I realized my legs were not exactly working properly after my hour-long knee-stand on the linoleum floor. I tripped, a little bit and caught myself on a chair, thankfully. Otherwise, I would have taken an unnamed, very famous national news network’s camera with me.
For the rest of this story, I need you to keep in mind that it is not only casual Friday, but it is also Beaver-Graham day. I am not dressed professionally. I am wearing a maroon shirt, a hole-riddled shag sweater, jeans and a side braid. I found some people in the crowd willing to talk to me, then found one of O’Rourke’s aids and asked if he would be answering press questions. She said yes and asked what news outlet I was from. I answered and, not to hurt the reputation of my publication with my appearance, quickly explained that we had no idea this was happening, I am the Lifestyles editor, I am so sorry, I was not prepared for this (gesturing to my entire outfit). She was very understanding, apologized for not sending us a press release and asked for my business card.
I thought that would be about it. I would stand in the crowd of media while the national outlets asked their questions. While working for my college newspaper, I really angered some people from Vice News when I butted in on their interview with Evan Jenkins. So, after a few lessons learned over the years, you usually know beforehand if you will get to ask a question. To my surprise, the second question called on was mine...the very staff member I had apologized to for my outfit smiled at me as she said, “Your next question comes from the Bluefield Daily Telegraph.” My mind stumbled for a moment, then my professional brain turned on and I quickly introduced myself and shook Beto O’Rourke’s hand and I asked him a combined question about the future of the coal industry under his administration and why he had decided to visit Bland County.
For the answer to those questions, I am sure you can find my articles about the campaign stop. I have to admit, regardless of his politics, I was a bit starstruck. I have been watching the debates and following politics and now I am standing in front of one of the front-runners. It has been about a year and a half since I interviewed someone moderately famous. I chided myself for my nervousness as I drove back to the newsroom. “Emily, you’ve covered Presidents! Obama and Trump. You’ve interviewed countless Senators and Governors. Most recently, confronting Joe Manchin about the Brett Kavanaugh Supreme Court appointment in the height of the debate!” However, after just a year out of hard-hitting, breaking news, I was a bit rusty, but only for a moment. I guess it goes to show that you have to exercise all your skills to keep them at their tip, top. Sure, I still love politics, but I am just fine with being able to write a feature story that might bring a tear to the eye, or design a page that showcases my photographer’s abilities. Basically, I got a bit of a “news high” today, but in general, I am content with my features and grateful for the opportunity to step out of my comfort zone every now and then.
— Contact Emily Rice at email@example.com and follow her on Twitter @BDTrice