By Olivia Benjamin, senior in public relations
When I was awarded the Hugh S. Sidey Scholarship in Print Journalism from the White House Historical Association I was overjoyed to have the chance to learn from amazing journalists who have been reporting on politics in the heart of politics, Washington, D.C.
The newly rebranded Hugh Sidey Experience in Political Journalism provides one Greenlee student $5,000 and an all-expenses-paid trip to Washington, D.C. I was so excited to get the chance to travel to D.C. for the White House Correspondents’ Dinner. However, COVID-19 had other ideas. With the dinner canceled and travel unsafe in spring 2020 due to the pandemic, the WHHA made other arrangements to truly try to make the best of things. Instead, they hosted three virtual panels featuring White House reporters that I was able to attend throughout the summer, along with White House Correspondents’ Association scholarship recipients.
Most of the sessions featured professional White House journalists who shared their experiences in political reporting. In the sessions, I joined around 10 to 15 other scholars who tuned in from all across the U.S. This was the first year the Greenlee School of Journalism and Communication opened this scholarship up to all majors in the Greenlee School. One thing I think made me stand out in the group of students was the fact that I was the only one who was not a journalism major. I actually found this really rewarding because it gave me a chance to explain why I chose to apply for this scholarship and why I, a public relations major, deserved to be a part of this group. I shared my unique experience of reporting on the Iowa Caucuses, which involved spending most of my time during the fall 2019 semester following around and writing about the 2020 political contenders as they flocked to our state.
One of the best parts of the virtual panels was being able to gain insights from these amazing journalists who have been reporting on politics for years. One panel was particularly interesting — it was focused on reporters’ experiences covering the Trump administration compared to basically any other president. The reporters talked about how it takes a different mindset when it comes to reporting on Trump, particularly because he uses social media so differently than previous presidents.
For our last virtual event, it was pretty awesome to have Hasan Minhaj join us and answer our questions. Minhaj — a comedian, writer and actor who is known for his Netflix show Patriot Act with Hasan Minhaj – was supposed to have been our entertainer at the dinner.
Overall, I think it was so beneficial to have had this awesome experience. I cannot express how grateful I am to the White House Historical Association and Mr. David M. Rubenstein for making this scholarship possible. Even with everything that has been going on with the COVID-19 pandemic, the White House correspondents were very kind to share their wisdom and advice from their years in politics. I think any Greenlee major has any interest in political journalism or political communication should definitely think about applying for this scholarship.
Olivia Benjamin is a senior in public relations with a minor in political science and event management from Sloan, Iowa. She currently works as a communications assistant for the Greenlee School. Her future career goals include working in crisis communications within politics.