Wednesday, October 29, 2008

A Date With Huffington?

I had been counting the SECONDS until I got to see Arianna Huffington, co-founder/editor-in-chief of the Huffington Post. And when I found out that NOT ONLY was she coming to my school, but I was going to get to interview her for the Manitou Messenger?! Well, I almost passed out.

After spending the day diligently writing down/thinking up/frantically asking Free Spirits ideas for questions, I was ready. So I got to place where the interview was going to, for lack of better words, "go down". And I waited. And waited. And waited. Finally, someone working there told me that Huffington wasn't showing up...because it "just wasn't worth her time". Ouch. Nevermind that it was for 10 minutes, between dinner and her speech, and the school was paying her FOURTY-THOUSAND DOLLARS. This, needless to say, put a bitter taste in my mouth towards the outspoken liberal blogger, her Greek accent, and her shellacked hair. (Although, for the record, I'll still probably read the blog. Compulsively.)

I miss Tim Russert.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

L is for the way you LOOK at me...

Things I love this week:

1) "Volume 1" by She and Him. Zooey Deschanel and M. Ward singing folky type songs. On our epic road trip (we're heading down south either this summer or the next to check out Elvis's homeland), this WILL be blasted from the car speakers over and over and over again.

2) My black tights. I've had to limit myself to how often I can wear these, they're just THAT perfect. And only $5 at Target. Thrifty AND stylish.

3) "Naked Economics" by Charles Wheelan. This book makes the world's most boring science (economics is a science, right?) pretty darn awesome. Plus there's a naked man on the cover. Speaking of which...

4) Streaking. While I have not gone myself (Thank God.), recent streakers from Kitt (who shall go unnamed) have given us all something to giggle about over and over and over again these past few days.

5) This quote: "Be careful. Journalism is more addictive than crack cocaine. Your life can get out of balance."--Dan Rather. Oh Dan, I love you.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

And now, the moment you've all been waiting for...

I'm apparently really, really bad at actually updating blogs. Ugh.

HOWEVER..."What the Hill?" FINALLY has podcasts.

You can download them here:

There's only 2 episodes up so far--one with Alana and Nathan filling in for Dave and myself, and last week's. Go check them out NOW.


Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Adventures with the Democratic Party: How We Snuck Into an Obama Press Booth, Met the World’s Tallest Man, and Became a Matter of National Security

I wrote the following piece on Monday's adventure breaking into the press booth at the Michelle Obama speech/rally. So if you're absolutely desperate to hear all about sneaking into a high security backstage area and getting hunted down by the Secret Service, here's all 1,500+ words. (Sorry.)

Adventures with the Democratic Party: How We Snuck Into an Obama Press Booth, Met the World’s Tallest Man, and Became a Matter of National Security
By Paula S.
For the first time in our many adventures together, my friend Caitlin and I were ready, prepared, and on time for something. We’d been planning for days to go to the Obama Rally in Rochester, Minnesota, featuring Barack’s wife Michelle as the guest speaker. We knew there were no bags allowed in the arena. We had left our signs and banners at home. And our tickets were nestled safe and sound in our pockets. We arrived early, and decided to go out for coffee for 15 minutes before dropping our stuff off in her car and being among the first in line for the speech. However, the coffee run ended up taking us a little under an hour, and when we finally made it back to the arena--bags in hand, of course--we found ourselves behind 1,500 other loyal Obama supporters. We griped and lamented about the terrible view we were sure to have, when a neon-yellow sign caught my eye.

The sign read “Press, This Way” with an arrow pointing to the back of the building. I peaked into my bag, and realized I had brought my camera, tape recorder, and reporter’s notebook. (As Caitlin later described “You looked just like the stereotypical reporter--all you were missing was the fedora with the press badge sticking out.”)

“We’re going to sneak back there,” I told Caitlin.

“What? No. We can’t. That’s insane. We don’t have credentials. Heck, we’re not even here to report on this. There’s no way they’ll let us through.”

“Caitlin, we’re going to be stuck behind a thousand and a half people. We have to try.” I proceeded to grab her arm, pulling her out of line, past the “Stay Off the Grass” signs, across the neatly manicured lawn (I figured if we were already breaking one rule, we might as well break more) and around the building to the press table.

It was then that I started getting a little nervous. It was one thing trying to sneak your way to the backstage of a Tonic-Sol-Fa concert by confidently assuring them you’re with the press--it’s completely different when you’re trying to sneak back into a place that would be crawling with cops, security, and secret service agents of every sort. I took a deep breath, and summoned up my inner Al Neuharth/Kelley Robinson/Anderson Cooper/Betty Bayee (four of my favorite journalists.). Neuharth’s famous words “Don’t stand quietly at the back of the line--you have to push your way to the front” (or something along those lines) rang through my head as I marched up to the table.

“Is this were we get our press passes?” I managed to somewhat-confidently ask the two women in charge.

They looked me up and down suspiciously (Caitlin wisely stood off to the side, ensuring I would be the one to get the brunt of the punishment if we were caught.) “What newspaper are you with?” They clearly did not believe I was an actual member of the media--I think it was my silver, glittery ballet flats that did it.

“U--,” I paused. I was about to say ‘USA Today”, but I realized if I said it, all chances we had were down the drain. “The Fillmore County Journal,” I said, referring to the newspaper that I did my internship at this summer. “And the Manitou Messenger. And the Falcon Informer,” I rattled off all the newspapers I had written for in the last six months, even though I had graduated from high school--and the latter newspaper--four and a half months ago. I figured, if worse came to worse, someone from one of these papers was bound to vouch that I was a legitimate member of the press.

The ladies seemed to believe me, because they then asked for my press credentials--something I very much did not have. But, refusing to turn back after we got this far (and partially because I was already nervous about what would happen to us if we got caught trying to do this), I shrugged my shoulders.

“I just found out I was covering this. My boss is really unorganized. I thought he called ahead…?” I bit my lip and lifted up my Free Spirit notebook, hoping that would be good enough for them.

The women sighed. “Let me just see your I.D. then,” one of them said. “You can sign in.”
If I seemed professional before, it was all lost the second I squealed and said “You mean we’re in?” They nodded. I grinned and signed in, grabbing my official Obama press badge and waited for Caitlin to get registered (She managed to get in by just shrugging and saying “I’m with her.”)

We waltzed in the building, through the barriers, and into the official press restrooms where we shut the door, checked under the stalls to make sure there was no one else in there, and immediately began jumping up and down, singing “We’re the press, we’re the press!” We then texted and called anyone we thought would be impressed by our finagling, before calmly walking out, through the double doors, and into the press booth.

Finally, after an hour and 15 minutes of waiting in the press area just a few yards away from the podium, the rally started. While the speakers enthusiastically pumped up the crowd (Who took it upon themselves to start chants of “O-bam-a!” and “Fired up! Ready to go!”…often yelled above the actual speakers themselves.), Somehow, my friend James managed to sneak through and stand by us, and the three of us snapped pictures, recorded, and jotted down notes with the best of them.

Michelle Obama came out, and proved to be just as inspiring and charismatic as her husband. “We have some choices to make in this election. And as a mother, a daughter, and a wife, I know there’s only ONE candidate who gets it…Barack Obama!” The crowd went nuts at this line, and I saw one of the Obama campaign staffers begin to usher some more important, professional-looking journalists past the little fence blocking off our area and down to Michelle’s feet at the podium. I grabbed my camera and started following them, but one of the other staffers grabbed me before I made it past the fence. “Absolutely not,” she hissed. I grumbled and moped back to my previous spot, glaring at my newfound enemy the entire time.
Finally, the rally ended. As those closest to the podium rushed up to meet Michelle, I glanced over to make sure the evil staffer had her back turned, and I shimmied over the fence (Actually, due to my highly un-athletic abilities, it wasn’t really shimmying. It was more awkwardly-hoisting myself over), and I dashed into the crowd, insistent on getting Michelle to answer at least one question. I found the world’s tallest man (yes. He was there. And yes--he was VERY easy to spot.) and practically glued myself to the side of him, knowing that she would definitely make a special effort to shake his hand.

As I waited to meet Michelle, I glanced back at my friends, only to see a look of horror on James’s face, and my enemy-staffer animatedly talking to some nearby secret service agents. I squeezed myself further into the crowd, managed to brush my hand against Michelle’s arm (I didn’t actually shake it. But it was enough to get my germs on her, and that’s all that really matters), and I climbed over a row of chairs, waiting for James and Caitlin to find me.
“Paula!” James yelled, “Paula, what were you doing?! The staff lady thought you were going to attack her or question her or something! You broke through that fence and she ran up to the secret service and told them to watch you! They thought you were a security threat!”
I gulped, grabbed James, and drug him deeper into the crowd. I was too nervous to go back to our original spot, fearing that I was officially a matter of national security. As the crowd started to thin out, and Caitlin found out that none of the Obama staff, volunteers, or speakers were allowed to talk to the press, I anxiously pushed my posse ahead. “We NEED to go now,” I hissed. Even though I was pretty sure I was off the hook, I couldn’t help but imagine a future where I would spend the rest of my life hiding from the Secret Service in a cave somewhere in the Middle East with Kim Jong Il and Osama Bid Laden.

We left the rally feeling inspired, impressed, and a little bit rebellious. And although I would spend the next few day nervous that the secret service would show up at my doorstep to take me to some secret prison reserved for journalists, I was also proud of what we had accomplished that day. We had blatantly broken some rules, and probably a few laws, and managed to make a couple Obama staffers a little scared of us. But, as Cathie Black assured us all at the 2008 Free Spirit Conference, “It’s not about being bad--it’s about being damn good.” And while I don’t think she was referring to making national security a little leery of you, I do think she meant that sometimes you need to shake up the establishment and bend the rules in order to get ahead in life. So get out there, take Ms. Black’s words to heart, and don’t forget to vote November 4. The change we need is just on the horizon.

Sweet Jesus, We Have a Blog Title

So I--we, as I begged everyone I know for their help--pondered, brainstormed, and racked our brains for WEEKS trying to think up a blog title. And in the end? I just used the title from the column I used to have. Oh well. Thanks to EVERYONE for their help though! You're all winners in my heart. hahahaha.

I guess I should mention a few key things before attempting to dive into the "blogosphere". I'm a first-year (NOT freshman, apparently) at St. Olaf College, and I'm starting a blog to try a different aspect of journalism. (I've been doing newspaper for years and currently co-host a radio show on KSTO called "What the Hill?" every Friday at 5 pm) I'm also starting this thing to keep up with the 2008 Free Spirit Scholars who have been dominating the internet with their musings for months now.

Lastly, I will try to post everyday (I hear this gets pretty addicting), but no promises. My record for keeping a journal is one week, so here's hoping this goes better...

peace and love
paula s.