GREENVILLE, N.C. (WITN) -When you’re a journalist every story is important and every interview is important. But you are always working for that big interview. My biggest so far came just a few years ago, and as I continue my look back at my 25 years at WITN, I’m taking you behind the scenes of how it all happened.
Visits from presidents to eastern Carolina aren’t unusual and when you’re a reporter, sooner or later you’ll cover them. I’ve covered numerous presidential and vice presidential visits as a journalist over the years, all the way back to the 1980′s while I was still in college, and reported on an event with George H.W. Bush when he was President Reagan’s vice president.
What is a bit rarer, especially here in the east, is to land a one-on-one interview with a sitting president.
Melissa Abrahamsen was the news director at WITN in July of 2019 when President Trump made a stop in eastern Carolina as he began his run for a second term. She was tasked with coordinating our coverage. Complicating and adding to the stress was an opportunity I had to interview the president, which would require even more planning, preparation, and background checks from the United States Secret Service.
Melissa says, “Ya know those opportunities don’t always come around. We just really tried to stay on top of it and work with his team and try to stay in communication as much as we could.”
I had several calls and emails with officials from the White House leading up to the interview about the logistics, security, and an itinerary of what I would need to do and where I would need to be.
Grace Holland was our nightside reporter at the time and was assigned to be my photographer for the interview.
Grace told me, “It was a lot of pressure but I was also really excited about it. Ya know the first thing I felt was really grateful for that opportunity. I knew in a way it was not something that someone right out of college, first job, gets to do.”
Melissa recalled, “I was happy to give her that opportunity to say hey I got to tag along ya know with the president.”
Once the president landed at Pitt-Greenville Airport we were taken from the press area and whisked under the wing of Air Force One to assemble with the White House Press Corps getting off of the plane. That’s where the president walked over for a few brief comments. Then, as he got in his armored car, we were quickly rushed into waiting vans to be part of the motorcade to ECU’s Minges Coliseum.
Grace says, “I just remember looking up and all of a sudden ya know It’s just people lining the roads waving because we’re in the same motorcade as the President of the United States, and that was another moment like, I don’t know how I’m here but this is really cool.”
We were then ushered into Minges and taken to a room behind the stage where we would do the interview. I remember in that hallway the incredible number of Secret Service personnel and seeing Vice President Mike Pence, and others from the White House back there was well.
We waited with security in what was essentially a locker room. Moments later the president walked in for our interview. We had a little more than five minutes for the interview before the president had to head out for the rally.
As storms rolled in that night, Grace and I and the White House Press Corps were escorted out of Minges, back into the vans, and to the airport where we were the only local reporters there as the president departed, ending a whirlwind, exhausting, and adrenaline-fueled day, except of course we still had to go back to the station now to put everything together for the eleven o’clock news.
It was certainly an exciting day professionally for me and an opportunity that came after more than 30 years in journalism. Grace, on the other hand, was brand new to the business but we both know it’s something that may be once in a lifetime. Grace says, “I think every year I will appreciate it more.”
Next month I’ll continue my look back at my 25 years at WITN with some of the lighter moments that have made us laugh and smile and have hopefully, done the same for you.
To watch and read my August anniversary report on the worst hurricane I covered you can click here
To watch and read my July anniversary report on my favorite places in ENC you can click here.
To watch my June anniversary report on the impact of CMN on lives and a hospital you can click here.
To watch and read my May anniversary report on the biggest mystery I have covered you can click here.
To watch and read my April anniversary report on working through and covering a pandemic you can click here.
To watch and read my March anniversary report on familiar faces and changes through the years you can click here.
To watch and read my February report on my most impactful story you can click here.
To watch and read my January report on my first story I ever covered you can click here.
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