Wellesley Student Journalist Selected to Attend First-Ever White House College Reporter Day

May 3, 2016
Student writers ask questions of President Obama at the first ever White House College Reporter Day
White House

Mary Meisenzahl '19, a reporter with the Wellesley News, may have glimpsed her future last week when, for an hour, she became a member of the press vying for President Barack Obama’s attention in the White House Press Briefing Room during the White House's first-ever College Reporter Day. The budding political journalist was selected to take part in the daylong event, held April 28, which gave student reporters the opportunities to: engage with administration officials including senior advisor Valerie Jarrett; participate in a press briefing with White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest; and meet and interact with members of the White House Press Corps.

"The biggest highlight was definitely the chance to hear President Obama speak, especially while we were sitting in the room used for actual press briefings," Meisenzahl said in an email interview. She explained that the White House Press Corps relinquished their seats for the students so the room was full of both student and professional reporters. Meisenzahl said her position towards the back of the room enabled her to have conversations with some of the press on hand while the room waited for Earnest to take the podium. (The President made a surprise appearance about halfway through the briefing.)

Another highlight for Meisenzahl was the unexpected opportunity to meet Karen Scott '13, policy advisor for the administration's National Economic Council. Scott took Meisenzahl on a tour while sharing her story of the path that took her from Wellesley to the White House.

Meisenzahl live-tweeted throughout the day, including tweeting a meeting White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough. McDonough told the reporters, "You're in a career designed to get to the truth" and "Your job is to make sense of the debate to the American people," adding that "every game needs a referee." It was a message that resonated deeply with Meisenzahl. "The more I read and try to be aware of what is going on in the world, the more I feel a need for vigilant journalists to act as watchdogs against corruption and misuse of power by politicians and businesses," she said.

One lesson Meisenzahl said she would take away from the experience is "there is not one right path I need to be on to continue as a journalist, but my success will be more dependent on finding whatever opportunities I can and using them to the best of my ability." She picked this lesson up after hearing many of the correspondents describe completely different routes to finding their way to the White House Press Corps.

Meisenzahl is already carving her path at Wellesley. This spring she and her colleague Alexandria Otero '19 co-wrote a robust critique of some of the presidential primary coverage. The piece, "Sensationalist Journalism Skews Political Climate at Wellesley College," was published on Medium. This fall she will take the managing editor reins at the Wellesley News.

Meisenzahl was one of only about 50 student reporters selected; other colleges represented included Stanford, Howard, University of Michigan, Dartmouth College, Rutgers, University of Pennsylvania, University of Virginia, and others.

The full video of the students' press conference is available on the White House YouTube channel.