Students Cover President Obama’s Speech in Newark

When President Barack Obama spoke in Newark to promote criminal justice reform, four student journalists from the School of Communication and Media were there to cover the story. Gentrix Shanga, Silas Kezengwa, Juan Contla and Natalie Caamano scored press passes for the November 2, 2015, event as journalists for Wired Jersey, Montclair State’s student-run news and information website.

“It was truly an honor to cover the president,” says Kezengwa. “When he came out, I immediately began taking pictures for our story, but once he started to speak, I had to put my camera down and just take the moment in.”

The students jumped at the opportunity when their professor, Steve McCarthy, proposed it. With help from McCarthy and Communication and Media Professor Tara George, the students prepared for the event at Rutgers University-Newark by doing background research and devising a plan for covering the story. Since video cameras were banned from the event, they opted to use audio and video retrieved from the White House video pool.

A couple of Montclair State University students taking a selfie at Obama's Speech in Newark.

“This event reinforced how prepared we are as student journalists to go into the real world and report next to the big dogs,” says Shanga, recalling that in addition to listening to the president’s remarks, they interviewed as many legislators, activists and former inmates as possible.

McCarthy agrees. “By the time I got there they had already started interviewing the New Jersey politicians outside the venue,” he remembers. “I was impressed by their initiative.”

The team pulled an all-nighter for the story – working a 22-hour day. Says Contla: “It was nonstop work.”

The effort paid off. “Not only do I know how to best be prepared with equipment for events, but I also know to show up early and know who’s who because that could help land a great interview,” says Caamano.