Communication Studies, National Conventions 2012

In fall 2012, SMU students are attending the Republican National Convention in Tampa, Florida, and the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, North Carolina, as part of a political communication studies program in Meadows School of the Arts. They are attending with Professor Rita Kirk, director of the Maguire Center for Ethics & Public Responsibility, and Dan Schill, assistant professor of communication studies, who are conducting “Dial Test” research for CNN.

Speakers’ Corner

An update from Amie at the Democratic National Convention: 

Who would’ve known that downtown Charlotte would temporarily turn into Speakers’ Corner?

Protests show the power of freedom of speech, as I have witnessed them on an SMU study abroad trip to London, as well as this week at the Democratic National Convention. Free speech, in the form of protests that emphasize debate and discussion, are much more prevalent in the United Kingdom than in the United States. Areas such as Hyde Park in London are solely dedicated to the showcasing of all interests, and debate is welcomed and expected.

From women protesting the bank bailouts dressed in pink satin boas and carrying champagne flutes to adolescents passing out brochures on abortion, freedom of speech is in full force this week at the DNC. Every time I see an American conversing with a protestor, my heart warms and takes me back to memories of men and women on platforms in Hyde Park validating and disseminating their beliefs. This week at the DNC has not only exposed me to the inner workings of politics, but has more importantly refreshed my confidence in the American public’s political interest.

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Security at the convention

An update from Amie at the Democratic National Convention:

Working at the Democratic National Convention that includes the President, Vice President, First Lady and countless Congressmen and women has given me many jaw-dropping experiences, especially with security.

Our credentials

On our first day, the security perimeter was already in existence, and the Secret Service conducted a security sweep of the arena that lasted over twelve hours and forced the relocation of many pre-Convention operations. Snipers have been spotted, motorcades are frequent, and it is the norm to see Secret Service agents with their distinct lapel pins on their left suit collar. Our credentials, which include passes on our lanyards to grant us access to multiple areas throughout the security perimeter, are the necessary keys to the workspaces filled with journalists, the suites with political VIPs, and the convention floor with delegates.

However, the most startling and surreal experience I have witnessed thus far is President Obama’s motorcade. Our work area is near the motorcade entrance at the arena. Obama’s motorcade could be heard several streets away, included 15-20 automobiles and Secret Service agents with firearms drawn. Witnessing such heavy security certainly makes any concerns over safety diminish. The Secret Service has fascinated me throughout this convention and made me an avid supporter of their constant dedication to the President, his cabinet, and the American public at large.

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The power of The Shirt

An update from Devin at the Democratic National Convention:

Being a runner for CNN has its benefits. Aside from the unparalleled learning experience and the incredible access I have to the political process, I also get to wear a navy blue T-shirt emblazoned with “CNN” on the front and “RUNNER” on the back in large white letters. There is certainly something to be said about the amount of amusement the shirt provides while out running messages for various CNN journalists.  Here are some experiences my fellow runners and I have had (with a touch of sarcasm) while sporting what will henceforth be dubbed “The Shirt:”

  • During a protest march, a protestor pushed pamphlets in my face, looking to recruit a major news network into his multitude, I suppose.  When I politely declined to take his material, he took one look at The Shirt and shouted, “This is exactly why you should take it! They don’t want you to have any fun!”
  • While on a particularly hurried task, someone shouted, “Look! The runner is actually running!” How original!
  • One runner had to endure shouts of “You’re biased!” while wearing The Shirt.  People are not shy at political conventions.
  • A group of Secret Service agents begged a runner to write down their sizes so she could attempt to get them all one of the beloved Shirts.
  • My favorite comments are when people tell me how much they love CNN.  I have been honored to work for them this week at the Democratic National Convention!
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Talking with history

An update from Lauren at the Democratic National Convention:

A few nights ago, I was allowed the privilege to hear first lady Michelle Obama’s history-making convention speech. From where I stood in the CNN press box, I was able to clearly hear the powerful words she spoke about the value of family and hard work.

As a young African-American woman, I was touched by how warmly she was received by the enthusiastic delegates who packed the arena. No matter one’s political beliefs, the strength and grace that emanated from her onstage was inspiring, and I felt so proud of her. As I watched, I couldn’t help but reflect on the road that led her to this point and how the women I met on my flight to Charlotte paved the way for Mrs. Obama and myself to be where we are today.

On my way to Charlotte, I sat beside a woman named Rose Marie Jones-Wade. As I settled into my seat, it became very obvious that Mrs. Jones-Wade was an Obama supporter – she wore her bright orange Barack Obama T-shirt proudly and was not ashamed to declare her support. As the plane taxied down the runway, we struck up a conversation.  It didn’t take long for me to realize that Mrs. Jones-Wade was not simply a faithful supporter of the President; she had had a huge hand in creating the world that would not only accept, but love, our first African-American President.

As we spoke, Mrs. Jones-Wade shared her amazing stories about her involvement in politics. Her list of political accomplishments was long – she has attended every Democratic National Convention since 1960 and been heavily involved in the Civil Rights Movement. I was touched when, as we talked about President Obama, she became emotional. “Seeing him up there,” she said, “makes the pain and suffering that they all went through worth it. That was the dream.”

Mrs. Jones-Wade and I talked the duration of the flight, and as the plane landed, I was disappointed to leave. I wish we could have talked forever. I had just spoken with history. She provided a window into a world that I had only read about in history books – a world of pain, suffering and struggle to be recognized.

As the plane pulled into the gate, I thanked her. I wasn’t just thanking her for her companionship on the flight, but rather I was thanking her for her struggle. I was thanking her for her willingness to stand up and speak up for herself and for future generations whom she believed deserved better. Michelle Obama and I are members of the future generations that Mrs. Jones-Wade and many others fought and died to offer us. As we said goodbye and deplaned, I had an overwhelming feeling that we were walking into the next chapter of history – one that would be written at the Democratic National Convention over the next week and coming months.

So, from the bottom of my heart to Mrs. Jones-Wade and other advocates, thank you for your courage and willingness to fight for me and stand up for what was right.

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Behind the scenes

An update from Hannah at the Republican National Convention:

Today James, Anthony and I met with recent SMU graduate Corey (CJ) Steadman. Steadman is Deputy Director of Production for the 2012 Republican National Convention. In this position, he helps coordinate events backstage and on the convention floor and makes sure the event runs smoothly.

Our visit with CJ didn’t follow the normal protocol. Instead of the standard Q&A, the meeting began with a tour on the stage, before venturing below the stage to gain a better understanding of the production aspect of the gig. Along the way, he shared his experiences at SMU and his experiences after graduation.

Steadman said a key aspect of his post-graduate success was the preparation his received at SMU. He told us about his experience at SMU as a member of the Kappa Sigma fraternity, vice president of new member recruitment for the InterFraternity Council, and as a member of the Young Republicans. He shared stories studying communications with our professors, Dr. Schill and Dr. Kirk.

Steadman took advantage of the experiential learning opportunities at SMU. His experience in SMU’s Hilltop on the Hill helped him get his first job out of college. Jumping back and forth between campaigns, including a stint in Newt Gingrich’s 2012 campaign for the Republican nomination for president, Steadman has changed his career goals. While he always wanted to be involved in politics or political advocacy, his experience in campaigns has pulled him into public service. His career goals include working in political campaigns and running for office himself.

Steadman is a great role model for young men and women in SMU’s Communications program, showing us that a dream can be reality in the political world.

From left: Alum Corey Steadman, with James, Hannah and Anthony

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The Olympiad of politics

An update from Savannah at the Republican National Convention: 

Let’s face it — people are tired of politics. Five days ago The Wall Street Journal released a poll claiming that the approval rating of Congress has matched an all-time low of 12 percent –  not something to be particularly proud of. But this shouldn’t be the time to change the channel.

As of right now, the biggest show in politics has come upon us. Like the Olympics, this quadrennial event is a logistical behemoth; although, unlike with the Olympics, we largely discredit the work that goes into them. Since getting here, I have realized that this isn’t something that just materializes on the nightly news to fill the news hole. Instead, the people here are just as dedicated to politics as Usain Bolt is to being the fastest man on earth.

Drs. Kirk and Schill of the Communication Studies Department have been our guides and coaches in this new and fast-paced world. This isn’t their first rodeo. In fact, they have served as mentors to some of the people running the RNC today.

One of them in particular, Rachel Russell, was able to share a meal with us during the calm before the storm, so to speak. After a great Florida sunset, probably the last one we would see while here, she met us for a passing of the torch. Russell had accompanied Schill and Kirk to the RNC four years prior in Minneapolis/St. Paul and was now giving us her advice as a graduate of the Communications Department. Beyond the obvious things like timeliness, a sense of urgency and an overall good attitude, Russell was able to share some of her stories and quirkier tidbits, like the necessity of chocolate and hand wipes. But, Russell is not just a page anymore. Instead, she is now a sought-after entity in the political sphere.

Russell is serving as the assistant to the Tampa Bay Host Committee Chairman, Al Austin, a well-known Tampa man, who is credited with being one of the reasons the convention is in Tampa. He has served as a delegate or an alternate for Florida since 1972. Russell described her work for him as a dream, and her boss as one of the most interesting people she has ever met.

In a brief anecdote she was able to reveal his passion for politics. In his home, Austin holds all of his delegate badges as well as presidential buttons in a nondescript cigar box. Simply the history there is a testament to his dedication. In essence, the greater part of his time on Earth is in that box. Her respect was evident in the story, as well as her desire to also give back to the democratic process.

Overall, this convention is a way to get us, the new crop of political hopefuls, into the game. And I, for one, am already hooked. In typical SMU style, we have unprecedented access to all the things happening in Tampa. So, stay tuned and let my fellow classmates and friends tell you their stories as well, because we are in the big time now. From dodging the hurricane to becoming friends with the Secret Service, we will be here to tell you all of our tales in our Olympic trials.

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First impressions

 An update from Amanda at the Republican National Convention:

Out on the veranda, your motley crew of cameramen, stage lights and microphones border the Tampa Convention Center. With perfectly posed palm trees and a crisp Tampa Bay Harbor, viewers might even forget that Hurricane Isaac is headed our way.

Cable news appears to be a seamless production. With affiliates in New York and headquarters in Atlanta, CNN streamlines live coverage of the convention with special guest interviews. Whom, you might ask, does CNN solicit to interview at this crucial convention?

My job here at CNN, as intern extraordinaire, is to coordinate the swift entrance, interview, and exit of CNN’s VIP guest interviewees. On paper my duties include escorting the guests to and from their secure drop-off locations to CNN’s live broadcasting areas at the convention.

However, I’ve never been one to stick to my script. I certainly was not raised to meet expectations, and I didn’t get where I am today by doing what was merely expected of me. Rather, I opt to exceed expectations and seek opportunities. There are hundreds of interns here, each with similar duties and menial task lists. How am I to go above and beyond, to be the student SMU has educated me to be, and to be the professional I hope to become?

Anyone can escort Georgia Attorney General Sam Olens to his car; I, however, can carry a conversation with him above and beyond the typical “Isn’t this weather a bummer.” In our brief walk back to his arranged transportation, I was able to establish common ground. In just seven short minutes, the Attorney General and I discovered that I was studying abroad in Spain at the same time as his daughter. While this common ground may seem trivial, it led to a conversation of significance.

Mr. Olens and I agreed that communication is vital to our future – to our future as Americans and our future as global citizens. In addition to being nearly fluent in Spanish, Mr. Olens’ daughter and I are attempting to master a third language. He was pleasantly surprised to know I too believe that first we must seek to understand before we can be understood, as language is the bridge to cultural understanding.

Our walk quickly ended and conversation cut short. He handed me his credentials and went on his way, presumably another interview. It was not until 4 that afternoon, seven hours after our exchange that I saw him again. This time he didn’t just shake my hand and say, “Nice to meet you.” Instead, he said, “Good afternoon, Amanda, I want you to meet a few of my colleagues…”

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The practiced journalist

An update from Marc at the Republican National Convention:

Putting an event like the Republican National Convention on the air is eerily similar to putting a play on stage. Dozens of tech people sprinkled throughout the forum tinker with lights and equipment, the talent sits patiently backstage waiting for their cues, and a few producers make sure every single second stays true to their vision. The news does not just happen. It is planned, rehearsed, and executed. I know this because I was a part of that rehearsal.

At first, I was sent down to the floor to hold a place so that the cameramen knew where to look. However, the anchor I was standing in for was behind schedule, and sound check needed to happen. They hooked me up to a mic and gave me direction through an earpiece. I was told where to walk and what to say just as if we were running live. Other reporters “tossed” the shot to me, and I back to them. In order to ensure each reporter’s shot would be perfectly timed and performed, we rehearsed several times. The entire process took at least half an hour. The live shot would take maybe two minutes.

So, if you’re watching the RNC tonight, be aware that every minute you see on air translates into hours of work from dozens of professionals (and newbies like me) on the other side of the camera. Now you know what our journalism students learn in their morning news show.

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An SMU alum spotted!

An update from Marc at the Republican National Convention:

Meet Sara McDonald. A former broadcast journalism and theatre major from SMU, Sara now works as a Senior Producer for CNN International. More specifically, Sara works closely with the show “International Desk” with anchor Hala Gorani. The show airs at 1 p.m. Eastern time since the primary viewer audience resides in Europe.

Of course, Sara might not be making such a worldwide impact without a little help from SMU. She says she left her alma mater well prepared to intern with CNN within a year of her graduation. She stayed with CNN for 15 years and then moved to CNN International in May of 2010.

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Texas pride at the convention

An update from Anthony at the Republican National Convention in Tampa: 

The Texas delegates showed up to the first full day of the RNC representing the Lone Star State in full fashion. With the help of generous donors, every member of the Texas delegation is decked out in a Texas flag shirt with a cowboy hat. Their hats are covered in decorative pins that they have been collecting and trading since the start of the convention. Some have even been collecting these pins for several conventions! When it comes to making a statement and a great entrance, the Texas delegates do not disappoint.

Although Texas clearly won the contest for best dressed, other state delegates coordinated parts of their outfits as well. For example, Hawaii gave all of their delegates elaborate leis to wear to the convention floor. Also, almost every state has a decorative pin of the state that delegates attach to their suits/shirts. This shows that delegates are obviously proud to be at the convention representing their respective states. It’s exciting to see all the different ways they express that pride for their states through fashion choices.

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