Memories of Our Journey

Nov 30th, 2008 | By ffolwell | Category: Lead Article

Campaign Coverage “08 Team

Following are memories from our team:

By Ma Jing (Masa)
Many people in China picture the United States as a golden free world. I told this to some Americans I met while covering the presidential election and they were so surprised. “No, no way!” they shouted. “This is a misunderstanding.”

I witnessed lots of misunderstandings even among Americans during this amazing trip. For instance, abortion was one of the most controversial issues in the election.

“Look at this pretty face,” Molly said agitatedly, with a picture in hand. “She was only 16 years old and she died on the operating table!” Molly White is the founder of the Pro-life International Organization. I met her at a breakfast meeting during the Republican Convention in St. Paul, Minnesota, where she talked about the disadvantages of abortion.

I learned that Americans tend to be split on this issue. One side is “pro life,” while the other holds a “pro choice” view.

I remember watching the final presidential debate in a bar, where I met a George Washington University student. She said she hated the term “pro life” because it made it sound as if those on the other side were “anti-life.” She believed women themselves, not the government, should make the choice. She was for keeping abortion legal.

People often disagreed widely on: “When does life start?” Pro lifers cite options, such as adoption, for women who don’t want to keep the baby. Those who are “pro choice,” feel it is up to the woman to decide about an unwanted pregnancy.

I had a hard time deciding which side I would support.

Suddenly, this reminded me of the first day we arrived in Washington D.C. We were walking in the street after an interview late at night when a woman wearing a shabby overcoat ran towards us. “Help, please help me…please…” the woman cried. “I’m pregnant. Please give me even one cent…” At that moment, we were newcomers to this foreign land, so we walked away without thinking twice.

By Jed Layton

After viewing the American political process, after having my writing critiqued, after viewing great pieces of American architecture, the most important thing I learned in the past two months was to appreciate the little things.

I didn’t learn this from a book or from a speech by a powerful politician. Instead it was an epiphany I had while traveling the country with seven journalism students from China.

I watched them love the little things they found in America. Gray squirrels scampering through Washington, D.C., parks fascinated Masa. Yamaha never tasted Mexican food and fell in love with refried beans and sweet corn tamalito. Nightingale had heard of Halloween but had never seen carved pumpkins.

As I observed them, I realized I had forgotten to look at the little things in America as I focused too much on the larger things in life. My Chinese friends unknowingly reminded me that yogourt, book stores and river docks can be just as amazing as museums or the Washington Monument.

The Chinese students also helped me be a better journalist. Jelen helped me with interview skills. Eliot showed me how to ask hard questions. Sara taught me the importance of light in photography.
Most of all, I was impressed by the Chinese students’ ability to be great friends and answer questions. I asked them about China and their lives there. They gave me honest answers leaving me impressed with their country.

At the end of the two months I can honestly say I was more affected by the Chinese students than by the numerous speeches I heard given by politicians. I would rather hear their opinion on politics than a New York Times columnist. I would rather be friends with them than with Barack Obama or John McCain.

By Zhang Yan (Nightingale)

Americans are proud of their democracy – that was my impression during the two months I spent covering the presidential election.  I discovered that in a democracy, people from all walks of life can make their voices heard.

I spent Election Day conducting interviews in San Francisco, Calif., a West Coast city with a high percentage of homosexuals.  Proposition Eight, an amendment to ban people of the same sex from marrying, was on the state ballot.

This stirred the gay community. They organized to defeat Proposition Eight.  On November 4, the ban on same-sex marriage passed, leaving gays outraged.  Still, their voices were heard before the election and afterwards as they protested what they viewed to be a setback for gay rights.

I was astonished at Americans’ view on how China has changed. During the 2008 Summer Olympic Games, as they watched the gala event, they began to show a new curiosity. I felt proud of my country when I introduced myself as a Chinese student.

When two of my colleagues met Democratic vice-presidential candidate Joe Biden during a rally, he shook hands with them and asked, “Where are you from?”  When they replied China, he said, “You should be proud of your country.”

I fell in love with Washington D.C., our headquarters during our stay. It is the center of America’s political life.  Numerous Congressional hearings are held on Capitol Hill, dealing with topics from global affairs to the economic crisis.

What I enjoyed most in D.C. was going to work with the sun shining, taking in fresh morning air and watching squirrels racing up and down trees.  I am so grateful to the people I met who helped me grow professionally and emotionally. These memories will never fade.

By Hua Qi - (Sara)

I feel I was fortunate to witness the American people electing a new president during a time of deep economic crisis.  Before I arrived, I wondered:  What is real democracy?  Now, I have the answer:  everybody has a vote and every vote counts.

During three months, we traveled from the “Mile High” city of Denver to the Twin Cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul.  We traveled from New York City to small towns in Virginia. We saw the real America: different people with different ideas, and different voices – all allowed to be heard.

 I still remember Obama’s pledge in his victory speech: “I will listen to you, especially when we disagree.”

I learned a lot during this trip about news writing and organizing materials.  I became more professional.  I learned that one of the most important things for a journalist is capturing details.

On election eve in Phoenix, Arizona, after McCain delivered his concession speech, the crowds dispersed quickly. But journalists still hung around.

I was sitting on the ground with my laptop writing stories. A TV anchor was standing before the camera talking about McCain’s loss and Obama’s victory.  I understood the meaning of being a journalist.  It is witnessing history and recording it.

The next day, people went crazy for the front pages of the New York Times and Washington Post.  “People want them as souvenirs,” a woman told a reporter as she bought 20 copies of the Post.

I also got to know more about American politics and how the three branches of government balance each other.  When the first version of $700 billion rescue plan was voted down by the House, I was in the Capitol building. I still remember one congressman saying, “It’s not a perfect bill, but voting it down is the beginning of a good bill.”

Not only congressional leaders, but ordinary people feel a responsibility toward their country.  I realized that is why Americans campaign so hard for their candidate.

I would like to say “thank you” to every ordinary person I met in America.  You are the ones who formed the image of America in my mind: a great country, people with dreams, struggling for a better future. Even I, an outside observer, was deeply moved.

By Zheng JIaliang (Jelen)

My three months covering the U.S. presidential election was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. What a journey!

During my time in the United States, I found it easy to interview people who usually were very open and easy-going. After I briefly introduced myself, most of them – including congressmen and common people – were willing to talk.

The people I interviewed didn’t worry about disclosing their names. However, people of Chinese or Asian heritage are more prudent about this. I think Chinese people are concerned about what they might face if they disclose their names because the political atmosphere doesn’t encourage such open expression. Americans grow up with a sense of press freedom. I found that they feel safe to express their ideas publicly.

As a rookie Chinese journalist, I wrote both in Chinese and English. I became a better observer. I learned to pay attention to newsworthy details and write them down like I was telling a friend.

I learned about the Wall Street Journal style, which is fantastic for storytelling. A good story usually starts from an eye-catching narrative lead, and then a theme (nut) graph, and some follow-up supporting materials like statistics, background information and quotations. At first, I struggled with this, but after much practice, it became easier.

I learned that writing news articles is like cooking. A journalist plays the role of chef. Making a checklist of sources or questions for an interview is like writing a menu. Interviewing is like shopping, and writing is like cooking. But I also know that my work is meaningless unless it touches my audience.  Thus, I realize I need to become a better ‘chef’ – to cater to my readers, instead of entertaining myself. 

The English website — — has posted all my stories. My life as a professional journalist started from this site. I am proud of being a member of this historic team. My memory of these three months will never fade. I know there is a land called America that once fulfilled my dream. 

By Gao Wenhuan (Eliot)

This campaign coverage trip is definitely one of the most important experiences of my life.  After returning to Beijing, I began to calm down and reflect on the last two months.  Every small detail has become a precious memory.

I remember election night when around 125,000 people rallied at Chicago’s Grant Park. They cried, yelled, screamed after hearing that Barack Obama won the presidential election. Black and white, they hugged each other and cheered, “Yes, we can,” Obama’s campaign slogan.

Some of those I interviewed told me this represented the success of the real American dream.  Forty-five years ago, Martin Luther King Jr. gave a speech in Washington, D.C., titled “I have a dream.”  He asked when all Americans would be judged by the content of their character rather than the color of their skin.

Many feel that Obama’s election answered this question. New York Times’ columnist Thomas Friedman told me in an interview that Obama’s success represents “the real end of American Civil War.”

To me, one of the most impressive memories was the enthusiasm volunteers for John McCain and Barack Obama showed. We visited many campaign offices of Democrats and Republicans around the country.  Always there were so many young and old, white and black, male and female volunteers who were canvassing for this election. They knocked on doors, made phone calls for their candidate, and reminded voters to register.  On Election Day, they even drove voters to polling places.

I learned that in the past, a lot of young people, especially African Americans, did not participate in political campaigns.  This time, inspired by Obama’s campaign, it appears a record number voted.

At one point, president-elect Obama told his jubilant supporters, “While we breathe, we hope.”  I cannot agree more with that.

My mind jumped to the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C.: The grand marble sculpture of Abraham Lincoln sitting in the silent hall, with the words, “I have a dream,” on the steps. It seems appropriate that this was where Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his famous speech 45 years ago.

By Gong Jietong (Yamaha)

 When I think what impressed me most during this trip, I would have to say it was waiting for members of Congress outside the Capitol building to report on the $700 billion rescue during the crisis on Wall Street. 

Very early that morning, my colleague Daisy and I carried all the camera equipment to the scene and looked for the best place to set up where members of Congress would pass by.  At the same time, we had to keep checking the news of the bailout with our editor so we would have the latest information.

The situation with the bailout plan was changing rapidly and being prepared with good questions was very important. I was in the role of anchor that day and when I first tried to interview members of Congress as they passed by, they just ignored me.  I was very sad and could not understand it.

Finally, a CBS-TV journalist taught me how to interview these politicians.  When he asked questions, he stood in front of the person to stop them, passing the microphone to them and asking, “Tell me what happened just now.”

His calm and confidence made the congressman want to stop and talk to him.  Then I realized I wasn’t interviewing a farmer or a worker.  I was interviewing a Congressman.  Being confident was paying respect to them and telling them that we in the media are equal.

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