Posts tagged ‘Ben Feller’
One of the secrets to good reporting—and it’s not much of a secret, really—is connecting with people. So about five minutes into Ben Feller’s talk Tuesday night at the Foster Conference of Distinguished Writers, it was pretty clear how he’d risen from general assignment reporter at the Centre Daily Times (“you should read my bear-hunting stories—they’re awesome”) to chief White House correspondent for The Associated Press.
Feller ’92, who appeared on the cover of our May/June 2009 issue, talked about visiting his dad in his campus office, eating lunch with his mom at the HUB, and his favorite bar. “To this day,” he said. “If I could pick anywhere in the world to have a beer, it would be Zeno’s.”
And just as everyone on the Penn State football beat has a Joe Paterno imitation, Feller displayed not only a good Barack Obama, but a pretty darn good Bill Clinton, whom he never covered in the White House. Asked if he wanted to do George W. Bush, Feller said, “Not right now,” in the voice—and with the hand motions—of The Daily Show’s Jon Stewart imitating Bush.
A young woman sitting near me exclaimed, “That was awesome!” (more…)
He was only on stage Thursday for 22 minutes, but that was plenty of time for Barack Obama to cover all the bases required for a president visiting Penn State.
Joe Paterno reference? Check. “I just met this guy,” Obama said shortly after he took the stage at Rec Hall,” I hadn’t heard of him before, but apparently he coaches your football team…”
Pointing out his own Penn State connection? Check. Obama mentioned Lt. Col. Sam Price ’95, an Air Force officer charged today with “carrying the football,” aka the nuclear launch codes the president keeps near at all times, just in case.
Giving the crowd a reason to cheer? Check. In fairness, Obama didn’t have to try all that hard to get the crowd on his side — based on his reception, the president (check our Facebook page for more photos) is still wildly popular with younger voters, who made up a sizable chunk of the 3,000 audience members in the Rec Hall stands. But the president made sure he connected with Penn Staters of all ages, and with current students in particular, by emphasizing far-reaching — and, in his words, vital — goals in his brief time at University Park.
“The reason I wanted to come here, (more…)
We told you Ben Feller ’92 Com was good at his job. Feller, a White House correspondent for the Associated Press, recently earned the Merriman Smith Award from the White House Correspondents’ Association for his coverage of President Obama’s secret trip to Dover Air Force Base to greet the coffins of fallen soldiers. (The photo at right shows Ben and the President at the annual WHCA dinner earlier this month.) The Dover piece also was among the work cited by the Gerald R. Ford Foundation when it honored Feller with its Ford Prize for Distinguished Reporting on the Presidency.
We’ve mentioned Feller a few times in our blog, and he was our cover story in our May/June 2009 issue; now he (jokingly) credits his success to our coverage: “See what happens when you give people coverage in The Penn Stater?” Feller wrote in an e-mail. “Good things happen—I see cause and effect here!”
That’s very nice of Ben, but his success is more likely related to his being a “master of deadline reporting,” among the other accolades listed by the awards judges.
Amy Guyer, associate editor
The Associated Press has an interesting article by Ben Feller ’92 this week. Feller is the AP White House correspondent whom we profiled in our May-June 2009 cover story. In the new article, Ben writes of a part of the White House that doesn’t get a lot of attention, but has seen its share of history: the East Room. Earth, Wind, and Fire has played there—and presidents have lain in state there. Feller’s piece looks at what he calls “the most important all-purpose room in America.”
Tina Hay, editor
Just got an email from Ben Feller ’92 Com, who I interviewed for the cover story in our May/June issue. He wrote to share a PDF link to our Q&A on the Associated Press site, and to share his story (which ran in today’s Washington Post, along with who knows how many other papers) about soaking White House press secretary Robert Gibbs in a charity event on the White House lawn.
Here’s Ben’s take:
Hope all is well in the homeland. Thanks once more for the fair and generous coverage in the last issue. I’m still getting nice words my way.
Also, I thought you’d get a kick out of what happened yesterday. Definitely a new highlight. Here is my first-person story.
Penn State proud,
He also sent a short video of his dunk-tank success, which I can’t seem to figure out how to post just now. Hopefully we can throw that up on the blog sometime Monday.
Ryan Jones, senior editor
In our May-June cover story, AP White House correspondent Ben Feller ’92 talks about what it’s like to cover the president. It involves a lot of waiting around, punctuated by moments where you have to jump in a van to follow the president to wherever he has impulsively decided to go. Today Ben got to follow the president and VP to Ray’s Hell Burger in Arlington for an impromptu lunch.
Be sure to check out the slide show—a somewhat over-the-top collection of 10, count ’em, 10, photos of the Leader of the Free World ordering, paying for, waiting for, and being served his cheeseburger.
Tina Hay, editor
I went back to the printing plant last evening to see the May-June cover on press and take some more pictures. By the time I got there, they had already printed several thousand covers and were stacking them onto pallets to go off to the bindery. But a few thousand is a drop in the bucket—we print something like 125,000 copies of the magazine, so the cover press will keep running for several hours.
Our May-June cover story, by the way, is a feature-length Q&A with Ben Feller ’92, the White House correspondent for the Associated Press. (Senior editor Ryan Jones went down to D.C. back in February to interview Ben for that piece and to see what the press digs in the White House are like.) We had struggled to decide whether to put Ben on the cover or go with one of the other features—we were divided as a staff as to which would make the stronger cover. That’s the subject of a whole other blog posting sometime. In the end we thought readers would respond best to the Ben Feller cover.
Meanwhile, over on another press, yet another signature (a collection of pages, all on one big sheet) from the interior of the magazine was printing, so our customer-service rep and I strolled over to see that. This time I used the camera’s built-in flash in an attempt to “freeze” the pages as they flew by. If you look closely (or click on the photo to see it bigger), you can see that a page of Pulse, some pages from Class Notes and In Memoriam, an ad or two, and a page of Sports are all ganged together on one sheet. Later they get folded and cut, and magically everything comes out right-side up and in the correct order. It’s like origami or something.
By the time I left, some guys were setting up the bindery to stitch the magazine together, although the stitching probably won’t happen until this evening, last I heard. That’s a whole other process that’s very complicated and that I only vaguely understand. A machine puts the pages in order, staples the magazines, trims them, ink-jets the names and addresses onto the back covers, stacks the copies, and puts the stacks into bundles organized by zip code and down to the mail carrier’s house-to-house walking path. It’s all very high-tech.
The last photo shows stacks of Penn Stater signatures ready to go on the stitcher—even as thousands more Penn Stater signatures are still being printed in another part of the plant. The stitching assembly line, and the guys setting it up, are in the background.
By Thursday or Friday of this week, readers will start getting their copies of the May-June issue. The farther away you live from Strasburg, Va., the longer it’ll take for the magazine to get to you. So if you’re in, say, California or Florida, give it a week or so.
Tina Hay, editor
As Tina alluded to the other day, I spent most of Tuesday driving to and from Washington, D.C., eight hours on the road broken up by three hours in our nation’s capital. Of that, I spent about 30 minutes at the White House. And that was pretty cool.
The trip’s purpose: A chance to interview Ben Feller ’92, White House reporter for the Associated Press since 2006. We’ve mentioned Ben on the blog, but we agreed that the nature of his job made him too compelling a story not to feature in the magazine. That’s why I made the drive — and if you’re an Alumni Association member, keep an eye out for a Q&A with Ben in the May/June issue.
In the meantime, a few highlights from my trip…
-White House security is thorough, but sort of underwhelmingly so. Basically, I walk up right up to the front gate (the Northwest gate, it’s called, in the tall iron fence that runs across the front of the executive mansion) and a guy sitting in the guard stand on the other side of the fence asks my name through an intercom. I’m on the list (having passed along my social security number and date of birth for a background check a few days earlier), so he buzzes me in.
That was easy! Except, of course, I’m not really “in” just yet. Once past the front fence, I slide my Pennsylvania driver’s license through a slot to the previously mentioned guard (sitting behind VERY thick glass) who checks it out and slides it back, along with a red badge with “PRESS” stamped on both sides. Then I walk through another door, into the security screening room. There, two more guards — they’re relaxed enough, but they’re also uniformed and armed — lead me through a variation on the airport routine: walk through the X-ray machine, all metal out of my pockets. But they don’t make me take off my shoes, jacket or belt, nor do they wand me or pad me down. Once I’m through, I’m inside — for real. It all seems too easy, until I remember that there are probably dozens of cameras (not to mention a few pairs of eye peering through rifle scopes) watching my every move. It’s creepy and reassuring, all at once.
Anyway: There’s a long driveway that curves toward the West Wing, which is where the press room is located, and for that 20 or 30 yard span, I’m free to stand or stroll around the grounds of the home of the leader of the free world. (Again: pretty cool.) I call Ben, who tells me he needs five minutes to wrap up some work. Since it’s beautiful out, I stroll around snapping pictures (and wondering constantly if someone might confiscate my camera or ask me what the heck I’m doing; no one does). Then I happen upon a clutch of TV camera guys standing and waiting outside the far-west entrance of the White House, in front of which some diplomatic limo is parked (I later learn it’s waiting for Japanese Prime Minister Taro Aso, who’s coming from his first meeting with President Obama). One of the camera guys is wearing a Penn State jacket, so I introduce myself.
His name is Mike — I totally, utterly fail to get his last name — and he’s a 1998 Penn State grad now shooting video for C-SPAN. [2/27 UPDATE: Mike is Mike Biddle '98.] Tha Mike tells me he’s one of a handful of Penn Staters in the White House press corps, and one of a slew of Big Ten alumni working for C-SPAN. (Who knew?) Ben Feller comes out to meet me shortly thereafter, and leads me inside the press room. He’s gracious enough to take a break from prepping for that night’s presidential address — a huge story on a beat where every story is pretty big — to give me the tour.
The news media are pretty well crammed in at the White House. There’s the briefing room, where the president or (usually) his press secretary speak to the press on a daily basis. There are (if I count right) seven rows of seven chairs each, plus two rows in the back set up with permanent TV camera stations. It was all renovated a couple of years ago (you can read about the room’s history here), before which, Ben tells me, the chairs were mostly falling apart, and the camera guys stood on an old podium with their freestanding cameras. It’s not luxurious by any standards, but Feller assures me it’s much better than it was.
Ben introduces me to Dan Huff ’82 Lib, a cameraman for AP Television. One of the now-permanent TV camera stations — they look almost like something you’d imagine from the space shuttle cockpit — is Dan’s, and he’s marked his territory with a Nittany Lion head magnet. Penn Staters really have put their mark on this place.
After that, we walk through the media work areas, which are cramped enough to remind me of something out of a small cruise ship or cheap European hotel (if I’d ever been on a submarine, I imagine it would be similarly tight). Everyone (the major wire services, TV networks, and a handful of big-city dailies) is squeezed into these tiny workspaces. The AP “office” is essentially a walk-in closet with desks for four reporters, two on each side, with barely any room between their backs. Good thing Ben seems to get along with his co-workers. These are tight quarters.
We walk through the media break room — again, small — and past a men’s room that features the sign you see here; I’m assuming they’re out of “soap.” Then downstairs, past the soundproof booths for the radio reporters, and back upstairs and toward the front of the briefing room, where we walk past the podium with the presidential seal and approach the same door the president himself steps out of when he comes into the room. Turns out there’s another door there, perpendicular, which goes downstairs to “the pool,” so named because it really used to be a pool (more about that here, including the wonderful irony of a newspaper funding the pool’s construction). It’s now used to house seemingly endless lengths of electronic cables needed to keep the press corps plugged in.
Some of the walls still hold the original blueish tile from the pool, and at some point, people started signing their names on it. It’s a rite of passage now, and Ben helps me find his name.
And then we’re back upstairs and out the door (though not before I snap a quick photo from in front of the podium, getting me as close as I’ll ever get to the president’s-eye view of a room), out the gate and off the grounds. Just that quickly, I’ve lost my insider status and am back to the civilian grind. It’s kind of a let-down, especially since I had to drop my press badge into a slot near the gate before I left. Unless I take my kids for a tour in a few years, I don’t imagine I’ll be inside the White House ever again.
As Ben and I walk down Pennsylvania Avenue toward a coffee shop, I ask about that — the sense of “Wow, I get to go to work at the White House every day,” and how long it took him to get over it. He tells me he really never has gotten over it — that in fact he actively tries not to get over it. He says he wants to always appreciate his job and the access he has — the fact that, at any given moment, he might be on Air Force One, or in the Oval Office, or even just in the confines of the press briefing room with a chance to ask a question of — and expect an answer from — the president of the United States.
Ben is incredibly gracious with his time, and after we sit for a terrific hour-long conversation about his experiences on the White House beat, it’s not hard to see why he’s got this gig (and why he’s probably pretty good at it); in both his outlook on the job and its responsibilities, and in his dedication to the task, Ben is relentlessly professional. I left with the makings of what should be a pretty compelling Q&A, which should land in your mailbox about two months from today.
P.S. Click on any of the photos to see a much larger version.
Ryan Jones, senior editor
In addition to Ben Feller, mentioned earlier, there’s also this elegant piece on the Inauguration from Associated Press correspondent Ted Anthony ’95, who talks about the “strands of the national tapestry that Obama recognized and teased out in his words” today. Another Penn Stater, Jerry Schwartz ’77, who usually is in New York (he’s in charge of AP news features), is in D.C. today, helping cover the Inauguration, along with Anthony, Feller, and two other Penn Staters: Carole Feldman ’74 and Jim Kuhnhenn ’76.
Lots of Penn Staters at the AP!
Tina Hay, editor
In looking on the Web at some of the news coverage of today’s historic presidential Inauguration, I was curious to see which part of the day’s events Ben Feller ’92 is covering. Ben is the Penn State journalism grad who has been White House correspondent for the Associated Press for a number of years. Looks like poor Ben drew the short straw today; the story he filed is about Joe Biden becoming the nation’s 47th vice president.
Maybe Ben will get to attend some fun inaugural balls tonight or something.
Tina Hay, editor