Saturday, July 28, 2007

Journalism 101: How to Survive a Day of Interviews on the Hill

Journalism 101: How to Survive a Day of Interviews on the Hill
By Dzovak Kazandjian

The Armenian Weekly
July 28, 2007

In the last installment of Dzovak’s Journal, I wrote that week 4 had been the most fascinating time I had spent, thus far, in Washington D.C. The “Leo Sarkisian” interns had the opportunity to attend a roundtable discussion with Freshman Democrats Rep. John Sarbanes (D-Md.) and Rep. Zach Space (D-Ohio) and find out the typical day in the life of a Member of Congress. The Representatives discussed their daily tasks and took questions to better paint a picture of the challenges facing newly elected Representatives.

As great as that was, this week turned out to be even better. I actually had a first hand look at the typical jammed-pack agenda Members of Congress have to constantly juggle—prime example being their ability to make time for a quick video interview before reaching the House floor to cast their votes.

I accompanied “Armenian Weekly” newspaper editor Khatchig Mouradian on a series of video interviews with some of the lead sponsors of the Armenian Genocide Resolution (H.Res.106). It was great opportunity to find out exactly how a journalist operates on Capitol Hill, and where media—ethnic or otherwise—fits into their schedule. I followed Mouradian as he questioned three House Members: Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), Rep. Brad Sherman (D-Calif.) (my own Congressman) and Congressional Armenian Caucus Co-Chair Frank Pallone (D-N.J.).

The first interview with Rep. Schiff went without interruption since it was conducted first thing in the morning, just as the Congressman arrived to his office. I was responsible of setting up and videotaping the interview and ensuring that we got a strong product for broadcast purposes.

Our second interview was actually scheduled with Rep. Anna Eshoo (D-Calif.). Here is where I got a real feel for how fluid schedules are on Capitol Hill. We were first set to meet at 1:30 p.m. Her press secretary called and explained that votes were scheduled for that time and pushed the rendezvous to 2:30 p.m., only to find out that an amendment that the Congresswoman had initiated was under attack by Republican opponents, keeping her on the floor well late into the afternoon. I had really wanted to meet Rep. Eshoo, who is the only Member of Congress of Armenian descent, but it will have to be postponed to a slower legislative day.

We arrived at Rep. Sherman’s office at 3:00pm with plenty of time to set up a nice background for our interview, only to find that 45 minutes of votes were called and a leisurely 15-minute interview would have to be conducted in 5, no make that 3 minutes. The name of the game is adaptability, with Mouradian condensing 10 questions into 4 and getting the message out to our viewers.

The last interview ended up even more rushed, as all the day’s votes had pushed Rep. Pallone’s schedule hopelessly late. But Rep. Pallone always has time to discuss Armenian American concerns and at 5:45 p.m. we did a five-minute update about the Armenian Genocide Resolution (H.Res.106).

Following Mouradian was great exposure into a line of work that I would eventually like to get into. It also really showed how flexible you have to be as a journalist if you are working on stories regarding Capitol Hill. Time is your greatest enemy on the Hill, with schedules turning on a dime based on votes and all sorts of crises. As frustrating or difficult as it is at times, it’s also really exhilarating and definitely something I would like to pursue.