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Students cover President Obama's visit

Feb. 5, 2014

Two Wauwatosa West High School students had an opportunity rarely offered to veteran reporters: the opportunity to cover a presidential visit.

Through a few pulled strings, closed gates and waves of nervousness, juniors Deanna Ross and Mark Salamone stood shoulder-to-shoulder with major media outlets covering President Obama's speech at GE's Waukesha gas engine plant for the school newspaper, West Side Stories.

The two approached the event like any professional team, dividing their tasks and assigning roles. Ross was to take photos and tweet, while Salamone's job was to collect interviews and write a story for print.

Knocking at the gates

Shortly before the event, West Side Story adviser Christopher Lazarski reminded Ross that people were watching and to make the experience count. He also asked them to think like they were journalists in high school and not high school journalists.

He told them that, "Everything they do now is up to them and it was different because it was like this huge event because the president came to town, and it's a thrill for people to cover the prez and be a part of the press corps," he said.

When Ross and Salamone walked up to the plant, however, they were turned away at the gates. Their names weren't on the press list.

Marooned with a few students from the University of Wisconsin-Madison who were also turned back, they waited for a half hour before they were let in.

Divide and conquer

As soon as they were past the gates, the two went into work mode. They split, with Ross walking up to the risers for photographers and Salamone shuffling his way through the crowd with his microphone, tracking down interviews and taking notes.

In addition to covering the event, they interviewed members of the press about their jobs, looking for advice. The UW-Madison kids they were stranded with gave them tips about internships, Ross said. She also received a tip from a photographer she was trying to lean around for a shot. The woman told her to step in front of her and take the picture.

"You definitely have to get out of your shell. There is no time to be in your shell when you're covering an event like that," Ross said.

During the event, Ross noted that she was one of few, if not the only person, tweeting. The tweets she sent were uploaded in real time to the West Side Stories website, which Lazarski had projected on his wall throughout the school day.

While Salamone and Ross didn't meet Obama directly, they've taken their notes and will be ready if the day ever comes that they have to cover another presidential visit.

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