Covering White House: High on Prestige and Aggravation
Reporters Devise Strategies to Work Around Limited Flow of Information

By Chris Adams

Covering the White House comes with glamour and excitement and a chance to be witness to the first draft of history.

It also comes with far more than its share of aggravation.

“When I walk into the White House, I feel like I’m sort of entering this … news-free tunnel, where the only things I’m going to learn are the things that they want me to know,” Julie Hirschfeld Davis of The New York Times said during a journalists’ session on covering the White House and the use of data in journalism.

Davis, of course, reports far more than what the White House minders want her to report. She – like two other veteran White House correspondents – says the key to breaking out is finding alternate sources.

“As for breaking news, it’s difficult,” says Roger Runningen, a former White House correspondent for Bloomberg News who reminded journalist of an old saying: “The worst place to cover the White House is at the White House.”

Runningen and Davis were joined by Mara Liasson, a political correspondent for NPR. They talked of the diminishing value of press conferences and daily briefings, as well as the tendency of their press corps colleagues to ask the president questions with so many parts that he’s able to duck each one of them.

Every day, White House reporters struggle with the need to cover the essential news of the day and chafe at restrictions on access and information. They often find colleagues who cover other parts of the executive branch can get more information from inside federal agencies about White House policies than White House reporters themselves can get.

And they develop strategies to build sources. One simple one: Take as many trips as possible, both foreign and domestic. That gives reporters a chance to catch White House staffers in down moments where they might lower their defenses – and perhaps cough up cell phone numbers that might someday some in handy.

Help Make Good Journalists Better
Donate to the National Press Foundation to help us keep journalists informed on the issues that matter most.