Magazine article New African

Up Close with President Obama in Africa

Magazine article New African

Up Close with President Obama in Africa

Article excerpt

It is not that often that the White House calls on an up and coming media house to join the Goliaths of the industry and be a part of the envied White House press corps on a historic US presidential trip. So imagine the shock and excitement for Teresa Clarke, CEO and Executive Editor of Africa.com, when she answered a White House call inviting her to accompany Barack Obama on his recent visit to Senegal, South Africa and Tanzania. How was it, being among the media giants, up and close with the leader of the world's most powerful country? She shares her Obama-in-Africa diary

WHEN I RECEIVED THE EMAIL instructing me to apply for an account with the White House Travel Office with regards to President Obama's historic trip to Africa, I wasn't entirely sure what to make of it. Eventually it became clear that my company, Africa.com, had been invited to join the ranks of CNN, CBS, NBC, Fox News, The New York Times, and the Washington Post as official members of the White House Travelling Press Corps. I was filled with pride and excitement.

While the invitation was a big honour, it also came with a hefty price tag, in terms of dollars and staff resources. However, I recognised that travelling with President Obama to Africa was a unique opportunity. We had a chance to cover this historic trip as insiders, through a uniquely African lens. We owed it to our audience and to ourselves to accept this invitation, and the challenge.

The first set of decisions revolved around what type of coverage we would provide. We recruited a very talented photographer, Arnold Lewis, to be a part of our two-person team to travel with the White House. I would do the writing, and he would do the visuals. Before long, my very ambitious editorial team convinced us that we could also learn how to shoot professional video, and do "TV news style" reporting, that we would send to them from the road, and they would produce with graphics, title slides, and supplement with additional images and video made available by the White House. The advent of digital technology meant that with a good camera, a laptop and a fast internet connection, we could produce something in line with what the "big boys" on the trip were producing.

Soon our office began to refer to President Obama and Mrs Obama as the White House staff do: POTUS and FLOTUS, which stands for President of the United States and First Lady of the United States. We were on what were almost daily briefing calls with the White House, and quite significantly, our email inboxes were taken over with dozens of updates on what the President was doing at every moment in the day. We were official members of the White House Press Corps--it seems we knew when POTUS sneezed.

On the long-awaited departure day, we arrived at the storied Andrews Air Force Base, 30 minutes outside of Washington DC, which is the government airport where POTUS boards Air Force One, the presidential jet. Inside the passenger terminal, we found about 30 people waiting for the press charter flight. In addition, there were another 40 or so members of government there to support the press, including people from customs who would see that we were whisked in and out of each country without issue given the millions of dollars of broadcasting equipment we carried. There is a lot of laughter and camaraderie that comes from many intense days travelling the world together, incurred over a long period. Everyone seemed to know everyone, and it felt like we were joining a fraternity with a long history.

The sense of camaraderie extended to the flight crew, as we boarded the 767 owned by Delta Airlines. This crowd knows each other well, they travel the world together, and it shows. Of course, the requisite safety announcements were made, but there was no sense of policing about safety belts or turning your phones off like one would find on a commercial flight. The flight crew had decorated the inside, in honour of the occasion, with African fabrics on some of the dividers between the sections of the plane, and they had hung a map of Africa in one strategic area. …

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