In that briefing room where it happened.

She worked in the belly of the beast as a reporter— in Washington DC — covering the Trump White House; a short internship that made Theresa Smith, now a teacher, a fly on the wall watching the frenetic competition for stories in the James Brady briefing room.

In this interview, and podcast I asked her what she learned from such an experience — what lessons could I pass on to my students in writing and publishing?  What’s a ‘Lede’? How do you get readers to pay attention? Some amazing insights from someone who’s been there, reported that.

The full story here!

Listen to the podcast:

Bad week for United, Pepsi and Spicer. Good week for apologies.

A week like no other, when an airline, a fizzy drink and the White House faced the wrath of citizens.

Here are the three apologies.

The Pepsi Apology

“Pepsi was trying to project a global message of unity, peace and understanding. Clearly we missed the mark, and we apologize…we did not intend to make light of any serious issue. We are removing the content and halting any further rollout. We also apologize for putting Kendall Jenner in this position.”


The United Airlines Apology

“The truly horrific event that occurred on this flight has elicited many responses from all of us: outrage, anger, disappointment. I share all of those sentiments, and one above all: my deepest apologies for what happened. Like you, I continue to be disturbed by what happened on this flight and I deeply apologize to the customer forcibly removed and to all the customers aboard. No one should ever be mistreated this way.”  Oscar Munoz, CEO   Read the full statement here.

The Sean Spicer Apology

“In no way was I trying to lessen the horrendous nature of the Holocaust….I was trying to draw a distinction of the tactic of using airplanes to drop chemical weapons on population centers. Any attack on innocent people is reprehensible and inexcusable.”

Shouldn’t we ignore the tweets of the second social media president?

You may have forgotten this. In April 2013, a hacker broke into the Twitter account of the  Associated Press and sent out a tweet about “explosions at the White House.”

Reuters noted then that the Twitter ‘report’ caused the S&P 500 index to fall, wiping out  $136.5 billion of its value.

We didn’t call it fake news then – just a bad prank. It demonstrated the power of ‘news’ that the world was beginning to consume in 140 characters or fewer.

Today, the ‘hacks’ and pranks seem to come from both outside (fake news perpetrators) and within establishments. They’re still using short-form journalism, which is easily spread by headline-hungry readers.

Trump tweets (a busy search term, for sure) have become worthy of analysis at the highest levels, and not just in the media. As Mother Jones writer Kevin Drum notes, these tweets “…are not for you. They are not for the press. They are not for Congress. They are for his fans.”

Meaning, I suppose, ignore them.

One group not ignoring them, and busily documenting them, must be journalism students. They must be relishing the fact that somewhere in this is ‘Twitter torture’ is a real-time study leading to a Masters dissertation. There have been similar dissertations on the rhetorical analysis of campaign tweets. But what began on 20th January is a treasure chest.

Photoshopping the White House

No, this is not another fake news alert. It’s a teaching moment, however.

The subject matter is appropriate. While teaching Photoshop and image manipulation, it’s a perfect time to be teaching students how to become critical consumers of information often seen through imagery. And spot when someone has been tinkering with the truth.


The class begins with the ‘conspiracy’ around the 2003 Space Shuttle explosion, by looking closely at the Photoshopped images. We also look at doctored images of public figures.

When they get to the computers, their challenge is to add to, or ‘enhance’ fountains on the White House lawn.

Here’s are a couple of examples. student-3

Take a guess. How many fountains are really there on the North lawn?

White House goes Cheesy, hashtags and all

It’s that time of year when communicators have too much time on their hands. Consider how: North Korea is pretending to prove it has a Hydrogen bomb (various sourcessay this was a damp squib); the sports minister of Sri Lanka is claiming he’s received ‘scandalous’ pictures of cricketers in New Zealand (hotels are denying this), and Google’s ‘self-driving’ cars are supposedly dangerous (drivers have sometimes had to stop them from crashing).

Perhaps it’s that down time after the Christmas season, when there’s a news hole that needs to be filled. With Cheese, for instance. The White House is hosting a humongous cheese party. The hashtag being #youfetabelieveit. It’s called the Big Block of Cheese Day. It’s been created after Andrew Jackson’s 1837 event, for which he trucked in a 1,400 pound block of cheese and had citizens come and mingle with the occupants. A sort of Open House event.

I don’t know how Mr. Jackson managed to handle this without a Tumbler account, but it sure goes to prove that sometimes all you need is a piece of cheese to get people to hang out with you. Unless you don’t mind keeping away the lactose intollerant.


No phones allowed at White House Cabinet Meetings

No live blogging, no checking your email, no tweeting during meetings.That’s a White House rule at cabinet meetings.

  • What does that tell you about how grown-ups behave at meetings?
  • What might it suggest about decision-making and technology distraction?


I’ve read somewhere that many businesses are asking people not to bring their Blackberries and iPhones to the meeting. I’m interested to know if you have seen or heard of an official policy on this anywhere.

What’s a Press Conference?

I like to link to a post I wrote at ValleyPRblog last week that received some good comments. I was curious to know who in the media had attended Sheriff Joe Arpaio’s press conference.

“I always thought a press conference was called when you had something of value to offer to the media. So when I received a text alert yesterday to say that Arpaio won’t run for governor, I was tempted to wonder what other bits of non-news might get the media to come over with cameras and notepads.” Read the rest and the commments here

It opened up a great discussion of what is a press conference. Is it an event? One reader suggested the act of announcing something to a targeted audience –via email — is no different.  Another reader pointed us to a marvelous exchange between Robert Gibbs, White House press secretary and the press corps. Apart from exploring the definition of a press conference, it shows us how a great host can disagree with the audience and still get the feedback that serves everyone, and doesn’t waste their time.

View the video here.

Quotes for the week ending 24 January, 2009

“Citizen participation will be a priority…”

Macon Philips, White House’s director of new media, in a blog post a few seconds after Barack Obama took oath as the nation’s 44th president on Tuesday.

“Communication. Transparency. Participation”

The first message on the web site that switched over on Tuesday at noon., spelling out the details why ‘change has come to’

“an excellent example of witness media and pro media cooperation. It’s not about the ‘versus.'”

Steve Safran, quoted in an article about the evolution of ‘eyewittness journalism’

“Inaugural speeches serve two purposes. They are designed to heal whatever rough roads people had to go down to get elected. The other purpose is to lay out the agenda and the key metaphors for what’s to come-and hopefully to induce people to cooperate.”

John Adams, Colgate Speaking Union @Colgate University, quoted in

“You must find ways to spread – in a new manner – voices and pictures of hope, through the internet, which wraps all of our planet in an increasingly close-knitted way.”

Pope Benedict XVI, on the Vatican’s launch of a channel on YouTube.

“Obama gets a thumbs-up for his Blackberry.”

Headline of a series of articles that celebrated the fact that the ‘tech president’ gets his way in being able to step out of the communications bubble. Only a few people will have his email address, the White House says.

“Twitter IS a massive time drain. It IS yet another way to procrastinate … But it’s also a brilliant channel for breaking news, asking questions, and attaining one step of separation from public figures you admire.”

New York Times Tech columnist, David Pogue about how he’s learning to use Twitter

How fast should you update history?

OK, so the headline was a bit provocative. Maybe we don’t update history when we update a wiki. But in the case of the newly minted president of the US, changing his profile meant turning the page of history.

Not many people look at Wikipedia the way I sometimes do –at the Discussion pages –but on the night before the inauguration (Jan 19th) I learned some unusual things about how information gets written, edited, and in many cases fought over.

The Wikipedians managing Obama’s profile faced one nagging question –apart from the expected edit wars over how to describe his African-American heritage: At what point should the word ‘elect’ be dropped? At the oath, or at noon?

We saw how in other quarters, particularly on the White House web site (and blog) and the State Department’s blog, Dipnote, how timing was everything. On on Tuesday, a few seconds after noon, there was a message from Macon Philips the new media person behind the web site. He announced that ‘change has come’ to the official web site.

Back to Wikipedia, the question arose if a ‘bot’ ought to be assigned to do change Obama’s information, saying the official time he would assume presidency was 11.56 am. One said his photo was creepy and needed to be changed. While the debate raged, it was agreed that “If stuff starts to get out of hand requests for page protection” would be made.

Meanwhile, Wikipedians wait, fingers poised over keyboards, for Hillary Clinton to be approved by the Senate. As of this morning there’s the word ‘designate‘ after her Secretary of State title’ waiting to be scrubbed, among other things!

What you say could come back to bite into your book tour!

This is a statement disparaging a former White House insider who wrote a book criticizing the White House. But there’s a catch.

“Well, why, all of a sudden, if he had all these grave concerns, did he not raise these sooner? This is one-and-a-half years after he left the administration. And now, all of a sudden, he’s raising these grave concerns that he claims he had. And I think you have to look at some of the facts. One, he is bringing this up in the heat of a presidential campaign. He has written a book and he certainly wants to go out there and promote that book. Certainly let’s look at the politics of it.”

It sounds a LOT like the person being attacked is Scott McClellan, former White House press secretary. The problem is, the person saying it is McClellan! He is talking about another tell-all book by Richard Clark! On March 22nd, 2004.

“And now, all of a sudden, he’s raising these grave concerns that he claims he had.”

Public records are a brilliant thing. But in this age of access, and the ability to drill into search engines and databases that capture history, what you say from a public or private podium feeds your data cloud.