Danny Selnick, Business Wire’s SVP, Strategic Markets, and Ana Pinilla, Business Wire’s Media Relations Representative for the Washington, DC region, visited the U.S. Capitol on Oct. 26 for a tour of the Senate Press Gallery. Danny is co-chair of the National Press Club’s Marketing and Communications Committee, which arranged the tour for a group of communicator members.
Shawna Blair, deputy director of the Senate Press Gallery, met the group and brought them to her office where she explained that she and her colleagues function as an intermediary between the Senate and the media – from taking care of accreditations for media organizations, to granting media access for extraordinary events like the President’s annual State of the Union Address or the inauguration of a new President. They also facilitate media requests to use the Senate’s Radio/TV Studio. The Senate media staff also enforce the rules set up for journalists who cover the Congressional body.
The Senate boasts some 3,000 reporters as credentialed media members -- 1,500 working at daily newspapers, 1,200 at periodicals, and 300 photojournalists. It’s interesting to note (and maybe a very good thing because space is so limited in the galleries) that most of these journalists don’t come to the Hill to all cover news at one time. There are only about 100 “regulars” who cover the Senate hearings, news conferences held at the Senate Radio/TV studio, and news conferences on the steps of the Capitol or in front of the “Senate Swamp” which is now covered over with pavers. (Because much of Washington, DC was originally built on swampland, this part of the Capitol was literally a wet mushy area.) About 100 “irregular” journalists come the Senate to cover special interest hearings or votes. For example, agriculture journalists will show up when the Farm Bill comes up for vote.
The Press area, inside the Senate Chamber itself and with some 20 seats and desks, overlooks the floor, but few journalists actually cover debates and votes “live.” Perhaps because of some strange tradition or something else, no electronic device can be taken inside the Senate. This means no cell phones or laptops on which reporters can write their stories. Instead, they watch the proceedings via television in the Senate press offices (dailies, periodicals, radio/broadcast, press photographers’ gallery) where they can more easily accomplish their jobs.
News conferences held at the Senate Radio/TV studio (which is also used by print journalists) are organized by the journalists themselves. Senators can only hold news conferences on the steps of the Capitol, in front of the “Senate Swamp” or in certain meeting rooms. They can, however, ASK a journalist (and it only takes one) to hold a news conference in the Senate Radio/TV studio for them, but it’s also first-come, first-served (there’s a sign-up sheet, of course). Space in the Senate Radio/TV studio is fairly tight, so I couldn’t help but ask if a fight ever broke out among journalists. The answer: usually not beyond someone complaining that someone might be blocking the view of a camera. But there was one reported story back in 2004 where not-so-nice pushing and shoving occurred between a CBS videographer and a reporter from the New York Post – all caught on tape.
Of course, professional communicators want to get their story in front of reporters who are covering issues near and dear to them and their organizations (especially if the head of their organization is testifying). While they can’t simply go to any of the Senate press rooms, they can get in front of reporters covering Senate hearings and talk to them directly. They can also use Business Wire’s Public Policy Circuits to reach not only reporters (and trade press) covering their issues, but also a broader audience including decision-makers, key influentials, and the public that consumes news online.
NB: As an aside, the group also visited the House chamber press gallery that sits above and behind where the President would stand when giving the State of the Union Address. From that angle it’s all but impossible to see the speech given without leaning way over the side, almost to the point of falling over. So why do journalists like to be in the House chamber? They can see and report the “color of the moment” as the president talks -- who stands, who sits; who claps, who doesn’t; who’s making off-handed comments and more.