Longhorns travel to D.C. to cover inauguration

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Two UT graduate students were on assignment in Washington, D.C., Monday as President Barack Obama was sworn in for his second term.

Graduate students David Barer and Efrin Salinas joined senior lecturer Katherine Dawson to participate in a PBS Newshour multimedia short course to cover the inauguration. Imani Cheers, director of PBS Newshour, chose Dawson to teach a course about the inauguration coverage to 14 students from different universities in November.

Dawson said teaching a short course is different from teaching a semester-long course.

“You need to assume the students were chosen because they are already competent writers, shooters and editors,” Dawson said. “I certainly treat the students like the adults they are, as if they’re reporters in a newsroom.”

Cheers said Dawson is the kind of instructor who is able to have a strong hold on a situation and still understand students’ learning abilities.

Dawson said the students were chosen because of their skill set, whether it be video or print. Throughout the inauguration weekend, students pitched story ideas to their team and then the teams chose what to cover. The team’s instructor had final approval of the its story idea.

Dawson said covering politics is different from celebrity news since it involves everyday life and issues. She said it is important to understand the issue so it is easier to report on it.

“I don’t know anyone who would not be intrigued by politics,” Dawson said. “It’s always rewarding to find that one person who really cares about the issue you’re covering.”  

In order to report on a story, Dawson said all sides of the issue are needed so that it can be reported without prejudice.

“The inauguration is very matter-of-fact, so there’s no need to give your opinion,” she said. “You have to remember the story isn’t about you and your beliefs. You present both sides and let the reader decide for themselves.” 

Along with the president being sworn in, the inauguration featured a parade, singing performances and a poetry reading. According to estimates by inauguration officials, there were about 1 million in attendance. The number is lower than the record-breaking 1.8 million in Obama’s first inauguration, but remains one of the highest of all time.

Dawson said one of the biggest difficulties is getting access and good answers because politicians and their staff know how to spin an issue well. She also said to cover an event like this, journalists need to keep an eye on the event and an eye on the crowd — a skill that the students got to experience and practice.

Both Barer and Salinas were busy and unable to respond for comment, but their work can be seen online at inaugblog.com and PBSNewsHour.com.

Printed on Tuesday, January 22, 2013 as: Longhorns travel to D.C. to cover inauguration