White House correspondent talks technology at SMPA

Technology is revolutionizing the way journalists report the news, said CNN senior White House correspondent Ed Henry – whose career spans three presidential administrations – in the Jack Morton Auditorium Tuesday night.

Henry, a media fellow at the School of Media and Public Affairs, said he and other journalists are still learning how to adapt to the media landscape that has drastically evolved over the years. He spoke at SMPA’s first all-school meeting of the year.

“Just in the matter of 12 years… digital media has revolutionized,” Henry said. After a short introduction from SMPA Director Frank Sesno – a former CNN Washington bureau chief – Henry discussed the ways in which reporters use new technology to learn, write and respond to breaking news stories throughout the day. He said members of the White House press corps will use Twitter during the days’ briefing, and respond to or retweet a fellow reporter’s note, all in real time.

While new media is transforming journalism, Henry’s most interesting stories were not about Twitter or Facebook, but about traditional briefings and interviews. During former President George W. Bush’s term, Henry threw convention aside by asking the president a tough question, which led to one of the most famous quotes of Bush’s eight-year administration.

Henry had been planning to ask Bush about the calls from officials asking for former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld’s resignation. Despite not being called upon at the briefing, Henry decided to take a chance and shout the question to the president as he walked out of the Rose Garden.

Henry said everybody told him that he couldn’t yell at the president, but he shouted at Bush anyway. When everyone stopped and look at Henry, the reporter got his chance to ask if Bush supported Rumsfeld. The question forced Bush into saying, “I am the decider and I decide what’s best.”

In 1998, the reporter was scheduled to do his first interview with then-President Bill Clinton inside the Oval Office as an editor at Roll Call, a newspaper that covers Capitol Hill.

When calling to confirm the interview for the next morning, Henry spoke to an official who asked him if they could cut the interview to fifteen minutes and do it over the phone. When Henry protested, the official politely told him that something had come up.

The next morning Henry went to his front door to pick up the paper, and on the cover of the Washington Post was a headline saying that the president had an affair with Monica Lewinsky. Henry still got an interview with the leader later that day.

On Tuesday, Henry could only stay for half an hour – he had to catch a plane in order to cover President Barack Obama in the morning – but students said Henry’s stories left a lasting impression on them.

“I thought it was really interesting listening to someone who is a current White House correspondent,” said Kelsi Browning, a junior in SMPA. “I am excited to hear from him in the future.”

Other students agreed that Henry’s insight into changing technologies was right on track with what SMPA majors were learning in the classroom.

“We get a lot of [White House reporting stories] from Frank Sesno already,” said Alec Jacobs, a junior in the school. “But Sesno is pre-new media and Ed Henry is like the new media White House correspondent.”

Henry took this new media role one step further.

After the event, he tweeted a “thanks” to the school for hosting him and responded to students’ tweets that thanked him for attending – all done while in transit to Dulles airport, via Twitter for iPhone.

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