by Michaela Kwoka-Coleman
Recently, I had the honor of being chosen as the student panelist for the 7th District Congressional Debate. When I was first approached to participate over summer, I was obviously very nervous. Never before had I been asked to be involved in such a high profile event. I had no idea about the amount of time and effort it takes to put on an event such as this. From sound checks and segment times, to makeup and wardrobe, everything is meticulously discussed and decided upon.
At my first meeting with the other panelists, Marianne Russ from Capital Public Radio, and Dan Smith from the Sacramento Bee, I sat in silence as they discussed past debates they had done and current political issues relevant to this election. “Overwhelmed” is not a strong enough word to describe how I felt during this initial meeting. I was very lost and had absolutely no idea what I was doing or what was expected of me. However, as I walked out of this meeting with a list of topics to derive questions from, a sense of purpose came over me. I had been designated with the task of developing questions that would be important to this particular elections; not only questions that voters already had on their minds, but questions they didn’t even realize that had- this would be my purpose for the next month and a half.
Over the next few weeks, I researched my assigned topics- sexual assault on college campuses, the rising cost of higher education, and the militarization of police forces- and began drafting question related to them. After sending my questions to the other panelists, we started the frustrating and agonizing process of review and editing. Everyone took turns offering their opinions on everyone elses questions, along with suggestions for improvement. Here is where I started to feel my second round of discouragement. After reading the other panelists questions, my own questions did not seem up to par; it seemed like no matter what I changed or reworded, my questions were still not a good as the others. Eventually, I threw my hands up in the air and asked for direction and guidance- I told my colleagues that I was so very lost and struggling. It was after this mini breakdown that everything turned around. After being honest and asking for help, my fellow panelists were quick to send me articles, links, facts, and any other information regarding my subjects. They helped me determine what content needed to be in each question, as well as what information wasn’t important or essential. It was here that I truly became comfortable with myself as a panelist for this debate and all my worries seemed to disappear… until the day of the event.
I’ve never been very afraid of public speaking- but talking in front of a camera on live television was a bit nerve wracking, to say the least. This anxiety escalated when we were waiting to be brought on to the set about ten minutes before the debate started. Waiting in the hallway with nothing to do but think about what was about to happen started to really psych me out. All I could seem to do was think about my questions and worry about whether or not I was going to mess up pronouncing something. At that point all I wanted was for it to be 8 pm and for the debate to be over. After this final thought, we were called on to the set, and my last chance to cry and run away had passed.
To be honest, I do not remember much of the actual debate. It all seemed to fly by so quickly and the only thing I could focus on was how uncomfortable the chair I was sitting in was. Yet, just as quickly as the camera started rolling, it stopped, and the debate was over; I’ve never felt so relieved in my life. Yet, I walked out of the KVIE studio with more than just something to add to my resume or write about in college applications. I had learned not only a lot about elections and political campaigns, but also how to work with campaigns and news agencies. I now have a better understanding about all the work that goes into hosting, producing, and airing a debate; everything has to be perfectly timed out and planned, nothing, except responses and rebuttals, can be left up to chance or one person’s discretion. Ultimately, I learned far more about working with others and researching than I ever have in a single class; real world experience, in terms of political journalism, is what I walked out of that building with, and for that I am very grateful.
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