February 18, 2017

White House Opens Briefings to a Wider Circle of Journalists as Spicer Shakes It Up


Tejinder Singh
Sean Spiver Briefing

White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer

Washington, DC – Gone are the days when White House correspondents could saunter into the Brady Press Briefing room when the two minute warning to the start of the daily briefing was announced. Now even an hour before the official start time – which can be delayed – there is hardly any standing room left as hordes of journalists whom we have never seen before have descended on the capital.

Many welcome the changing times, and looking beyond the bashing of Sean Spicer on late night comedy shows or otherwise, he has brought some refreshing changes to the daily briefing at the White House. Many journalists in the briefing room, especially those who have attended briefings in Europe, agreed that these conventions of White House coverage are outdated and due for a face-lift.

Front Row evaporates

The monotony of the Front Row raising questions on the same subject with different sets of words and phrases has been thrown out of the window, hence the reaction of some in the media who felt they had the right and were the privileged lot. Having lived in seven countries and having come here from Brussels, Belgium after covering the European Union and the NATO, I can share from personal experience: Nowhere else, including the daily briefings at the European Commission, are there privileged lots of journalists like what was happening here before Spicer came and changed it all.

The White House press secretary set the ball rolling on his first day (January 23). Instead of calling on the front-row, made up of the five major broadcast networks and The Associated Press and Reuters, Spicer gave the first questions of his first full briefing to a New York Post reporter.

During a marathon first briefing, Spicer, who took questions from 43 reporters over the course of 79 minutes, did not shun outlets that have clashed with the president either. Silencing critics, Spicer gave the third question of the first briefing to Janet Rodriguez of Univision, the Spanish language giant that rankled Trump throughout the presidential campaign. Also called were the left-leaning Huffington Post and “Fake News” CNN’s Jim Acosta, who had a testy exchange with President Donald Trump at an earlier press conference.

Skype Seats

Another encouraging initiative is opening up Beltway enclosed Washington, DC to the rest of the United States to invite journalists from every nook and corner of our nation. His announcement that the White House would create four “Skype seats” for reporters not in the Washington area or who don’t have a hard pass to attend the briefings in person, was welcomed by well-meaning journalists.

Sean Spicer with Skype journalist

Spicer, in a post-election interview in December 2016, had told Fox News that the new regime wanted to be “innovative, entrepreneurial” about its media operations. While he said he believed there would be daily briefings, he suggested the format could change, perhaps by adding new elements, eliminating some television coverage and bringing “more people into the process.”

Overflowing Brady Press Room White House

There are a large number of journalists who welcome these changes and are filling the Brady Briefing room with a record number of attendees.

 

Pool Blues

One area that still needs attention still is the so-called protective pool — a group of journalists that travels with the president whenever he goes outside the White House, and through which he can communicate with the public during an emergency or crisis.

But there is acknowledgment in the media circles that some re-examination of the system is warranted, especially at a time when news organizations, which must pay their way to follow the president, are mostly big media houses with deep pockets and the small media is left to get pool reports through the eyes of those who can pay their way. In Europe, it is mostly free so all can participate on a rotating basis.

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