Category Archives: AP Rome Internship

Experiences while interning for Associated Press Rome bureau

The Last Day

This was unquestionably the most frustrating chapter ending I have ever experienced.

Only when I felt I had truly found my stride at work, when I felt really at home with my Italian family, when I had secured best friends for life in the other interns, was it time to go.  I felt as though I’d been building a nest for the last three months and now was the time to really live in the nest. Only it was time to go home to an ailing economy and an even more bleak journalism industry, with little hope of stepping into the next phase of my professional life.

This is usually the time when one might expound upon all the expectations that were disproven or exceeded in an experience like this one.  But to be honest, AP Rome was exactly what I expected and wanted.

I expected to have little to no nurturing from the staff, and I was not disappointed. I say this with affection and not bitterness. Feelings of discomfort are my indication that I’m indeed growing up, and so I prize them highly.

I expected to feel pressure on the job the likes of which I had never experienced, and I did. The fast deadlines, the scope of the news, the language barrier and cultural differences were all added degrees of temperature in the pressure cooker.

I did not expect sympathy or understanding for my mistakes. The mistakes on this job had very real consequences for the journalists, consequences that would naturally evoke frustration and criticism. It was extremely real in that way.

I had expected, or hoped rather, that I’d form life-long friendships with the other interns, and this perhaps above all, was the sweetest met expectation.

I expected to do my best to be part of the family with whom I lived, and the acceptance and familial love that was shown to me in my home moves me to tears.

I knew from experience that the quarks and inefficiencies of urban Italian society would frustrate me, while forcing me to grow my patience. Such was the case on both fronts.

I expected to fall in love with Rome all over again, even if it was my sixth stay in the eternal city. I’m happy to report that the beauty continues to take my breath away.

I was determined that no matter how brilliant or lackluster my performance was in this internship, I would exude positivity, a hunger to learn, and persistence. Such were the elements that colored the staff’s parting words and feedback.

I expected my Italian to improve, and it did. Though I’m proud to say I was told that I speak Italian with a Spanish accent. Thank you Texas, I carry you with me everywhere.

You can call them expectations, determination, suspicions, missions. What Rome did was to fill all these academic ideas of what was to come with robust flavor and experience. It’s the difference between a recipe and the finished dish.

I had a  highly intellectualized idea of what this experience would mean to me, but now that it has become real, the emotional elements are what resonate the most.

How lucky am I to be pursuing something that is so all-consuming, and thus all-gratifying, that my life’s work  immensely impacts my formation as a human being?

Even as I imagine that news wires may not be my final resting place in journalism, I knew in Rome that this is the work I love and will do forever, no matter what the medium.

Big day at the FAO

On Friday, Nov 17th I misplaced my storytelling skills in the face of a mammoth-like bureaucracy. I say ‘misplaced’ because ‘finding out I never really had any’ is much too scary a notion to consider.

I accompanied Associated Press Television News to the United Nations Food and Agricultural Organization to interview FAO and African officials on their efforts to save a rapidly diminishing Lake Chad. This was the first assignment where the pressure was on to interview diplomats and dignitaries instead of doing the usual man-on-street quote fishing.

The journalists in the office didn’t seem to anticipate a lot of news coming out of this event, so naturally the occasion called for the enthusiasm only a hungry intern could muster.  So I, along with a one-man Television crew and the APTN intern went to the FAO headquarters on World Food Day to figure out what would make this event at all newsworthy.

From the time we cleared security to the time the presentation started, as a crew we had exactly 11 minutes to interview the water and energy minister of the Congo, the executive secretary of the Lake Chad Basin Commission and the FAO land and water director. Just your typical press run.

Our first interview was with the Congolese minister was on Camera, and in French since he supposedly did not speak English. I jammed my recorder in his face with the faint hope that someone in the office might speak enough French to translate. Our 3 minute impromptu interview was concluding but I had a vital question I wanted him to answer. I hurriedly asked him if he spoke English and he said “yes.” So much for our collective elementary French skills.

“How is the proposed water transference project going to affect the relationship between the Republic of Congo and Chad?”

The minister came back with a very stately answer of course.  Later on, the TV intern thanked me for asking that question. All the encouragement I needed right there.

By the time we made it into the meeting room, I had become the designated on-camera interviewer, since the camera man and intern were tied up in the technical aspects of the shooting.  I quite liked it. I also liked having little time, it gave way to the more important questions without any ceremonial wheel greasing.

By the time it was over, we had run with the Reuters journalists up and down stairs, in and out of elevators, in and out of rooms, just trying to get some spare time with the key players. When we finally exited the building, I felt as though I’d been in a fast train with one shot to throw a football out of the window into a small hole, like you do at carnivals and such. Whether the football made it into the hole or not remained to be seen.

Alas, the day was not over.  In fact, actually going and reporting the event was the easy part.  I had been given the unique chance to write a brief on the event for a potential contribution line at the bottom of the story. With the memory of my New York Times bliss still sweet in the chambers of my ego, I was determined to summon my writing skills.  Oh if only determination were all it took.

As I sat down to write the brief, a funny thing happened.  I was so stricken by the bureaucratic weight of what I’d just done, that I felt beholden to the many titles and labels with which I’d been presented by the publicity gurus themselves. It’s as if I had forgotten that story telling makes allowance for paraphrasing and re-labeling. My first sentence was all labels and titles and truly slip-into-a-coma boring.

When I handed in the brief, my ass was promptly handed to me by the editor, again.  “What’s this?” “Who cares?” “This is bureaucratic speak.” These were the general comments coloring her criticism of my first draft. But you know, in a strange way, it felt kind of nice to be back in the writer’s seat again, no matter how much I was mucking it up.

After shame and humiliation drove me to re-working the piece, we noted that the real necessary guts of the story were untouched by my reporting. This wasn’t really my fault, I had been told to leave the event after the first speech was made so that I could have time to write the brief. Naturally, I was going to miss some stuff, the very stuff my editor now deemed vital to producing anything usable out of this event.

So I made the necessary phone calls, and got the vital info, but by the time it was said and done it was 7 pm, and the Nigerian desk wasn’t hungry enough for it for me to pursue it any further.

I asked the editor if I could rework the story on my own time and possibly get her feedback on a second draft. She was very accommodating.

I think I’ve arrived at the realization that it is better to start out with too much voice in a piece instead of too little.  Tis better to be overly dramatic at the outset than to be overly dry. I don’t know when or how I convinced myself that news had to be boring or it wasn’t proper news. You can always reign in too much perspective, but once you’ve turned in a boring piece, you’ve cast yourself as a dry, voiceless writer who’s instincts tend toward a lack of storytelling. Who wants to be that writer?

I want to be the writer that calls a spade a spade in the most colorful way possible. The one whose editor says “You’ve nailed the story, just make it a little more objective,” or “I agree with you totally, but just tone it down a bit.”  That’s the kind of writer I’d hope to have as an editor, so now I just have to set about the business of becoming her. I think this blog is the first step.

When Journalism gets Physical: Rome’s Freedom of the Press Rally

On Saturday, October 3rd, I found myself torso-to-torso with a crowd of 80,000+ protesters  in one of Rome’s largest and most famous squares, Piazza del Popolo. My assignment: talk to as many Italian protesters as possible to touch on the main thrust behind the demonstration against Italian Prime Minster’s control of Italian media, and the culture of intimidation that exists between newspapers and municipal governments.

My editor instructed me to phone her every 20 minutes with a new, juicy quote, translated from Italian to English of course. Did I mention I was torso-to-torso with 80,000+ people?! To simply strong-arm my way to an area quiet enough to understand someone took 15 minutes. Then talking to the protesters in Italian, recording their ramblings, then replaying their comments to myself to where I could extract the most on-point quote, 20 min? Please. The pressure was higher than in any other experience to date.

The first detail my editor wanted was a crowd estimation. Both of us knowing that the cops weren’t going to even look at me let alone entrap themselves in a crowd estimate, it was up to me to guess. After one outlying cop told me the square could hold roughly 60,000 people, I knew what I had to do.

I spotted the highest, seemingly accessible wall in the square, overtaken by intently perched observers, much in the same way their ancestors must have when Imperial politicians came to grand stand back in the day. I then sized up the sea of people separating me from this key panoramic point. I rolled up my non-existent shirt sleeves, hoisted my incredibly heavy and inconvenient bag on my hip, and dove into the crowd.

I wrestled with at least 20 ‘passionate’ mob members (angry mob members sounds so negative). For every person I grappled with, three more physically handled me.  I clawed, I shoved, I sweated right through my prim button up blouse, I shot my camera in the air and snapped anything that would grace my lens. I wanted to give my editor visual perspective upon my return to the office.

Finally, I reached the wall, and at once was overwhelmed by a single thought; how the hell do i get up this thing? Then I saw it, the access point where the wall dwellers were hoisting up anyone who had the nerve. Pity, I was so close to sporting my army fatigues that afternoon.

I squared my shoulders and shoved my way over to the gate-keepers. “Mi puoi aiutare?” “Can you help me?” I asked expectantly once facing the high marble wall, trying to shed the oppressive feeling of meekness I had accumulated after my third body-slam in the crowd. As true comrades, they did not hesitate, they took my bag first, of course I choked back fears of robbery since they were about to hoist my person up in the same manner. I stand at 5’8″ bare foot, with my arms fully extended I barely grabbed their hands. I silently prayed that one or both of them were cirque du soleil performers with super human strength. One, two, HEAVE!

I tried to ignore the veins bulging out of their necks and arms. Note to self: pizza and pasta do not a light person make. They got me up to my rib cage and from their I yanked myself up on the wall. Again, in comrade fashion, the gentlemen to my left returned my bag to me. I immediately ripped my camera out and started snapping the square. It was overflowing, the fullest I’d ever seen any mass-organized event in all my life. I phoned my editor to report that the crowd well exceeded 60,000. Later estimates from the police would approximate the crowd at 80,000.

While perched, I stowed my camera, whipped out my recorder, and chatted up my acrobatic partners.  Of the 10 or so people from whom I took down quotes, opinions were pretty varied, but everyone agreed that intimidation and fear of physical harm were inflicting the most damage to Italian journalism. I can only imagine what new meanings the word “death threat” takes on when you live down the block from a mafia boss. No boys and girls, the mafia is not a myth, it’s very real and very well-connected in Italian politics.

I learned the value of steering your sources to a concise comment in the context of man-on-street interviews. I tended to let people go on and on as they pleased, taxing my already strained time limits and muddying their own points with unusable anecdotes and fringe examples. If ever faced with the same situation, I think I should emphasize the need to reduce their point down to a sentence, and then right it down. When speaking in English this isn’t so much of an issue, but when your working your brain to translate in real-time, 5 minute monologues are hard to decipher in a timely manner.

I hopped off the wall and spent the rest of the afternoon escaping the crowd to phone my editor, and re-entering the crowd to find the next quote. It took some serious stamina on my part, and I savored every minute. I’ve joked to family and friends about  belly crawling in a jungle one day in order to get the scoop, but the truth behind the joke is that at times physical prowess can pay off in journalism.

I have no illusions about my own physical performance that day, if anything I was an awkward turtle, but it awakened me to not only the multidimensional demands of journalism, but the multidimensional fun of it as well. I personally like getting on a scene and facing physical, or bureaucratic obstacles. I really feel my worth, or lack their of, in such situations.

Not to mention, I gained a whole new appreciation for the journalists covering that protest that were filming, photographing and writing all at once. It seems like organized chaos to be straddled with all that equipment and having to factor in so many elements into a single sound bite or a minute of b-roll, or a quote with precisely the right amount of color and information.

At the end of 4 hours, I was exhausted and starving. I zipped back into the office, typed up everything I had, and passed it along. I got no complaints that day, which was the highest praise I could ever have hoped for, and was allowed to leave early. After such a huge experience there is only one thing to do; call up a buddy and decompress over a couple of beers, which is exactly what I did.

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some of my sources from the Foundation of Italian Communists

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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"Papi Inquistor (Berlusconi) is a false threat that sues everyone who contests him"

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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"Who gives a f*#@ about Berlusconi's b@#$*&*, freedom of the press is not a scandal!"

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sign "don't obstruct information"

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protesters marching to the sound of steel drums

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protesters scaling anything and everything for a better view

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crowd shot from on top of the wall

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crowd shot of protest

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Article 21 of the Italian Constitution, garunteeing freedom of the press

The Precious Gift of Family

One of the most prized and unexpected occasions of my entire stay in Rome was a few days in the charming medieval town of Monteriggioni, in between Siena and San Gimignano, with my Italian sister and mother. The experience is better seen than described, as per the  video and photos below. Enjoy!

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More little Italian streets...

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More view....

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Flavia and I in front of the Tuscan countryside

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Flavia and her mother Anna, my Italian sis and mom respectively

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San Gimignano's central well

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San Gimignano square and Flavia off to the right

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A view of San Gimignano's twin towers

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A snapshot of our meanderings through the streets of Sien

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View from my bedroom window in Monteriggioni

A Change in the Winds: Italian government in flux and a new haircut

I apologize for this video update is a bit late, but key none the less. At the point I recorded this, an extremely important constitutional court decision had just come to pass, outlawing legislation that gives Italy’s four top office holders immunity from prosecution while in office. Result; Berlusconi must resume corruption trials stalled years ago when this legislation, called “Lodo Alfano”,  was passed. And I got a new haircut.

Che Velina! The sad state of feminism in Italy

When it comes to culturally justifying a sexism so deeply entrenched in social customs you’d think it was genetic, the Italian populace takes its ques straight from the top; Prime Minster Silvio Berlusconi.

Not only has the mainstay of Berlusconi’s public persona revolved around dallying with an escort and intimately interacting  with a minor, but he has the shameful reputation of promoting Italian ‘showgirls’ or ‘veline’ as their called, to political office.

The velina, translated literally as “flimsy tissue paper,” are the young, beautiful and near-nude decorations for many an Italian TV show. They don’t speak, always smile, and often shake their assets for a camera person who’s overly eager with the zoom feature. The painful truth behind the seemingly endless supply of young women is that so many girls of a certain age in Italy have come to see the velina’s path as the ultimate road to success and happiness.

To be fair, Italian TV has scandalously degraded  women long before Berlusconi came to power.  But since Berlusconi’s assumption of the three major prime time networks here in Italy, and indirect manipulation of other networks, veline have more notoriety, and in some cases, more political power than ever before.

To my elation, one of the more seasoned journalists of AP Rome has decided to tackle this phenomenon with an in-depth feature. I was lucky enough to be present for the inception of this project, one of the best shifts I’ve ever had to date.

I conducted loads of research on already existing analysis of  ‘velinismo,’ and even got to watch a trashy game show in the office with the reporter as research.

In this particular show, The Color of Money (Il Colore dei Soldi), it’s much a game of chance resulting in some bright-eyed contestant (usually female) either winning or losing large sums of money. In between these rounds of chance, like Wheel of Fortune,  the show’s  silver-bikini-clad velina takes center stage to do a short dance number, light on the dance, heavy on the shimmy and shake. For what you might ask? Who knows? To pass the time and give the male audience something to look at is my first guess.

Shows velina concluding short dance number

Show's velina concluding short dance number

After she’s done expertly pointing her exposed butt cheeks to camera, she resumes her position perched on the arm chair of an ugly elderly gentlemen, opposite a parrot on his other side. Sadly, the parrot talked more than she did throughout the program.

It was nothing short of sheer pleasure to see my own judgments of Italian TV poignantly voiced by the AP reporter. Furthermore, upon research,I found the sad state of the TV feminine has been tackled by some courageous activists in Italy and savvy writers in the U.S.

The grass roots documentary titled Il Corpo delle Donne (The Body of Women), intensely examines the machine motivating this parade of boobs, legs and crotches on Italian TV, and the significant impact it’s having on the mentality of the Italian female.

Comedic news strip, Channel 5

"Comedic news strip, Channel 5"

What’s interesting to me is that the public presentation of women is so contrary to the characteristics of the Italian women that I’ve come to know and love; strength, assertion, call-it-like-it-is determination, and general disgust with velinismo and everything it stands for. It’s almost as if such ridiculous TV imagery is part of a greater campaign to break down the robust spirit of the Italian woman, to remind her that she’s to be physically perfect, looked at and admired, and never engaged nor respected.

The director of Il Corpo delle Donne, Lorella Zanardo,  has been featured in  major Italian papers  and The New York Times as one of the several leading voices in the feminism debate.

Even Vanity Fair has mused on the subject in Michael Wolff’s article titled “All Broads Lead to Rome”

Here’s his secret: he puts big-bosomed girls on TV. So many girls that they have come, in Italy, to represent, like courtesans of another era, almost a social class: the veline.

The sad truth is, as audacious and blatant as  Berlusconi’s velina-mania is, there are trails of bread crumbs that lead to the same dark places in L.A. and other U.S. entertainment meccas.

Whether it was for his extra-marital shenanigans, his involvement with a minor, or general dirty-old-man-ness, I cherish the moment of Michelle Obama snubbing Berlusoni at the G20 summit in Pittsburg.

Image from Daily Mail, UK of Michelle Obama snubbing Berlusoni with a cold handshake.

Image from Daily Mail, UK of Michelle Obama snubbing Berlusconi with a cold handshake.

It’s so brilliant. He’s coming in for the hug and gets totally rejected.

Sure Berlusconi can be easily cast as a joke, and hopefully removed from office once his corruption trial resumes, and hopefully forgotten thereafter.

But he’ll still be a media mogul. So what punitive damages are Italian women left with? A government-sponsored assassination of their value and dimension.

In the latest chapter of Berlusconi’s fail-proof ability to offend womankind, he tactlessly insulted the intelligence and appearance of a prominent female politician in the Democratic Party, Berlusconi’s opposition, on a nationally televised debate shortly following the Constitutional Court overturned legislation giving judicial immunity to top office holders in Italy.

Rosy Bindi, while Berlusconi was teleconferenced in, exclaimed that his comments attacking the President of the Republic, Giorgio Napolitano, were “extremely grave.”

His immaculate response? “Is this Rosy Bindi? I recognize she is ever more beautiful then she is intelligent!”

Now, being a woman of maturity and political weight, she isn’t what Italian pop culture would dub as beautiful. So the comment was in essence meant to call her stupid.

Her immaculate response? “Sir, I’m not a woman at your disposal.” A clear throw back to his entanglement with escorts.

Lately, Rosy Bindi is given a hero’s welcome from women and Berlusconi critics alike.

As for my own involvement with the story, I anxiously await the finished product of the AP’s pursuit.

Running with the Pack: Nancy Pelosi speaks at 9/11 commemoration in Rome

Nancy Pelosi between David Thorne and Gianni Alemanno

Nancy Pelosi between David Thorne and Gianni Alemanno

I have finally found myself in the atmosphere that makes all other banal and trying atmospheres worth it; in the presence of a not only power-wielding but also controversial politico in the frenetic mix of the press. It was awesome.

That day, I woke up to the ninth 9/11 of my life.  It didn’t wash over me in quite the same way as it does in the U.S. The nostalgia was there, but without the commemorative visuals to refresh my memories of the day of the attacks.

I got a call from the other intern about passport information, ashamed to say I was still awash in sleep at 12:00 when she called, so I hadn’t put it together that this may have been for press credentials.

After gulping coffee from my gerry-rigged coffee pot (i.e coffee grounds on a paper towel over a tea pot) I read in my Facebook inbox a message from Chiara detailing my upcoming assignment with all the excitement of a proud mommy.  It was touching.

Speaker of the US House of Representatives, Nancy Pelosi

Speaker of the US House of Representatives, Nancy Pelosi

At 5:30, I was to go to a 9/11 commemorative presentation, including a speech from none other than fiery House Speaker, Nancy Pelosi. Apparently she was in town for some G8 business, which happened to coincide with 9/11.

I dressed a little spiffier then normal, not really knowing the particulars of the event, and tried to wash down my anxiety with overly sweetened coffee.  Of course trying to soothe anxiety with coffee is like trying to soothe a cut with salt.

Hours later, I arrived at work, ready to be commanded.  I made sure that my ultra nifty Zoom digital voice recorder was loaded and ready. Chiara had warned me of the abysmal sound quality of the office tape recorder.

This may seem like an obvious piece of advise, but I don’t think it’s ever too early to invest in your own multi-media equipment, and in this case, the immaculate recording of my zoom served me extremely well.

So at 4:55  I hopped into a taxi, expensed to the AP of course, and made my way through traffic to Piazza di Porta Capena.

I had received instructions to call the office immediately after Pelosi had spoken to relay her comments. I felt so legit!

So we arrive, and in typical Italian fashion, nothing seems to be under tight control, including the press.

I’m promptly ushered to the cattle-pin, I mean press area, roped off in red velvet flanking the chairs for the official guests.

I saw young journalists chatting each other up as if this were a field trip, I saw young and old reporters regarding the happenings with a slightly contemptuous air of superiority, the ever-beloved photographers, almost entirely male, who always look as if they could be summoned to the jungle at a moment’s notice.

In the middle of it all, was I, the newest cub in the wolf pack. Doing my darndest to leave no informational stone unturned, I conversed with security officials on security details.  I spoke with the prefecture on who constituted the distinguished guests.

In that very European way, the press waxed disinterest; a note pad  in one hand, a cigarette in the other.

I was ridiculously over-dressed compared to the shabby chic uniform of everyone else, but such is the life of a bottom-feeder.

Of course that laissez fare veneer was to evaporate completely in mere moments.

Thorne and his wife

Thorne and his wife

David Thorne, newly instated US Ambassador to Italy arrived in a sleek black sedan with his wife.

Once his sent was in the air, we wolves abandoned all posture and launched ourselves in his direction,  with ears flattened and teeth bared.

We all grappled over each other, minimally trying to respect our red-velvet confines.

The photographers, to the disgruntled guffaws of the rest of us, disregarded the ropes completely and knelt fiercely beneath him to change up their angles.

Thorne waiving 'ciao' to the press

Thorne waiving 'ciao' to the press

We all assaulted him with questions, even though we were told this was not an event that included questions and answers.  I through a question of my own in the air just to keep up with my cohorts.

Also following the lead of fellow reporters, I dug out my camera and started taking my own snap shots of the event, David Thorne included.

Pelsoi awaiting the presentation of the 9/11 memorial plaque

Pelsoi awaiting the presentation of the 9/11 memorial plaque

As if that weren’t rush enough, when Pelosi arrived in the same type of car, the photographers went buck-wild.

I was content to stay near the rear of the pack, using my digital zoom to document her presence. Physically, she seems much smaller in person.

The pics I later took of the now permanent monument came in handy when I was  describing it to the editor.

The presentation started and everyone settled in with their recorders, cameras and notepads.

The entire ordeal revolved around the unveiling of two ancient Roman columns in the square to represent what? You guessed it. The Twin Towers.

Planted betwixt the columns was a small marble stone with a plaque on top inscribed with George Santayana’s immortal words; “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”

The New, now permanent, 9/11 monument in Rome at the Piazza di porta Capena upon which the entire ceremony was based

The new, now permanent, 9/11 monument in Rome at the Piazza di porta Capena upon which the entire ceremony was based

Though I had only been asked to record Pelosi’s comments, I went ahead and called the office to tell them the context of the event, a move that seemed appreciated at the time. Yay for judgment calls.

I had carefully placed my fancy recorder almost between my feet not far from the speakers. I also took down what I thought were going to be winning quotes on my notepad.

It was pretty typical 9/11 rhetoric, though to hear such expressions of solidarity from Italian officials was pretty neat.

When all was presented and concluded, the entire populace of the event rushed Pelosi. Many wanted to shake her hand, security wanted to protect her, and then we, the press,  wanted to interrogate her.

It was such a thrill to be sandwiched in between everyone, all united in disregard for personal space or common courtesy. I saw two photographers clash expensive cameras on accident, but both chuckled it off without missing a beat in the action.

All to no avail, she ignored our questions with a beaming smile and averted glances.  No stranger to shirking off reporters it would seem.

I found a quiet place, perched myself  on a low wall, and played back the quotes I noted on my pad to get them exactly right. In the taxi back to work, I dictated my quotes to the editor, and felt very valued.

I can happily report that not a single criticism was made, which I can only take as the highest adulation.

The big take away from this is how exhilarating and wonderful it felt to be at a news  scene of note.

I do, I do,  I  like the news! I like it here or there or anywhere! I like it at a desk or on a scene, on the phone or on a screen. With all to gain and none to lose, I do, I do, I like the news!