U.S. Elections Coverage, Successful Experience Personally and Professionally

Dec 282008

By Mohammed Ma’ayta

Several thoughts went through my mind when I was told that I was chosen to cover the last days of the U.S. elections in a program organized by the International Center for Journalists (ICFJ). I admit that I felt a little bit of fear because of the importance of this event, in addition to the fact that I did not know the atmosphere I was going to work in.

Several questions made their way to my mind: Will the journalists working for the newspaper I was to join cooperate to ease my mission as I did not have the network which any journalist should have? Do they welcome foreign visitors without fear, especially since I come from a region where some Western news organization distorted the image of its people? Will they judge me before even knowing me?

However, several of these concerns faded away in the first days of the trip. We were highly welcomed by the employees of the International Center for Journalists. They provided me and my colleagues, the other journalists, with a comprehensive program that included interviews and discussions with representatives of the major American newspapers, prestigious academics, directors of major polling institutes in addition to some experienced people in politics in the United States. That’s how the first days of my visit to Washington proceeded. The hardest part was to come -- covering the U.S. elections in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania where I joined the major newspaper, the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review.

A few minutes after my colleague Ali and I arrived in Pittsburgh, we received a phone call from a journalist working in the newsroom which we were joining. She told us she was going to pick us up from the hotel where we stayed to show us the newspaper and give us some sightseeing of the city as well.

Starting from here, the atmosphere where we were going to work sounded positive. As we entered the newspaper’s building, we were welcomed by smiling journalists who assured us that they would be very cooperative to have our mission succeed.

Work started the next day. We met up with the editor-in-chief who was extremely nice and he told me that he had once visited Jordan, 10 years ago. He assured us that he would help us avoid all the obstacles which might face us in order to enable us to do our job comfortably.

After that, a bulky schedule was organized for the 10 days that were to come. It helped us follow the rallies held by the candidates competing for the position of the President of the United States of America – Barack Obama and John McCain. This was an unforgettable experience. They also helped us in organizing interviews with the people we wanted and provided us with the sources we needed to support our news stories and investigative articles, in addition to the analysis we provided our newspapers back home.

Our colleagues at the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review helped us on these field trips. They were very nice and they even invited us to watch American football matches at their homes and celebrate Halloween, which helped us know their families and their friends who were extremely nice. They also invited us for lunch and we exchanged our viewpoints about several topics that interest them and us.

Luckily, my fears did not take place. I spent a successful and rich experience in America personally and professionally. My mission of covering the U.S. election ended successfully. It made me understand the [American] political system and the mechanism through which the U.S. president is chosen. It also helped me to know the effectiveness of the opinion polls and the influence of media on the voters and their decisions. Honestly, we spent two great weeks. Covering a global political event like electing the U.S. president is a transformational step in my journalism experience, but most importantly, I have good friends in America now!

The writer is editor of the international section of Al-Rai in Amman, Jordan.