Every four years the presidential campaign cycle converges with campaign operations and front-porch politicking.
The media, ranging from local newspapers to national television, goes along for the ride, highlighting the interdependent relationship between politics and journalists.
It’s the perfect atmosphere for college students studying political journalism and an opportunity to get out of their lecture chairs and take-in the process.
And that is exactly what is happening right now at Saint Michael’s College in Vermont. Every four years the college offers Media and American Politics, a class that coincides with presidential elections. The highlight for students is a two-day trip to New Hampshire to see behind the headlines and sound bites and look at both the candidates and media with their own eyes.
As part of this year’s trip, the students made some of their own headlines.
Media outlets characterized the students visit to a Mitt Romney town hall event in Hopkinton, where they peppered the candidate with social-issue questions, by reporting headlines such as, “Romney badgered on same-sex marriage questions” and “Romney avoids reporters, but not tough questions.”
“I think we were really just asking the questions he didn’t want to answer,” Elizabeth Murray, a junior media studies, journalism and digital arts major at Saint Michael’s, said.
Murray said Romney told the audience the ideal climate for children is a home with one man and one woman. She said the students weren’t happy with some of those answers because they wanted to know more reasoning behind his thoughts, not just his positions.
“When you know why a candidate feels the way he does, it’s easier to get to know them,” Murray added.
In addition to the Romney event, students also attended a Jon Huntsman campaign stop in Tilton, where they also pitched social-issue questions.
The Media and American Politics students were not the only Saint Michael’s students on the trip. Their fellow travelers were students with the Student Global AIDS Campaign who went with the purpose of advancing their cause.
Junior media studies, journalism and digital arts major Gabrielle Hall said there was a clear division on the trip between the activist students wanting to bring attention to their cause and the media politics students looking to get first-hand experience with the election process.
As part of the trip, students also visited with reporters to discuss campaign coverage and spoke with an online editor of the Concord Monitor about how social media and online news impact election reporting.
On the second day of the trip, students attended a debate and had quick encounters with candidates Michele Bachmann, Newt Gingrich and Huntsman.
Hall said she was surprised when meeting Bachmann because she found the candidate short in height. She said in class they had discussed how taller candidates often have an advantage and she thought about that upon meeting them.
Furthermore, Hall said when Huntsman approached the group after the debate he referenced some of the students social-issue questions from the day before. She said it was interesting to see questions they asked stick with a candidate.
For Tarah Srethwatanakul, a foreign student with Thai and Swiss citizenship, the experience of observing her first American election was something quite memorable.
“I feel like this type of campaign is really unique to America,” she said of the United State’s emphasis on candidates as people, something she hasn’t seen in elections overseas.
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