Saturday, March 27, 2010
Stepping out of the Newsroom and flying to Washington DC was not on my To Do list but somehow it manifested itself in the form of a Social Media - Reporting Tour, about a week ago.
This was to be my first real experience overseas and the first time I was to fly to a foreign destination on my own. 4 and a half hour flight to Dubai, 8 hours at the airport trying to get on Facebook and another 15 hours of flight to Washington DC should have killed my excitement but it didn't. In fact, the moment I arrived and took a taxi to the hotel only to find out that due to a 4 hour delay as a result of flight delay, my check-in time was pushed back and I had about 6 hours to wait till my room was vacant! But luckily, I bumped into one of the 30-odd journalists who were supposed to arrive at the Washington Plaza and leaving our bags at the concierge, the two of us went sight seeing in DC.
To give you a bit of the background story - the tour was organized by the Foreign Press Center of the U.S. Department of State and funded by the U.S. government. So why would they do this? Well, according to what I understood from the folks at the Foreign Press Center, by inviting over 60 journalists and bloggers from around the world on 2 reporting tours - one in February and the other in March - the U.S. government hopes to highlight their views on different matters and to present them to other nations through the journalists. Apart from that, the tour being on Social Media, the U.S. government more or less painted a fine picture of just how they maximize the benefits of using social media to put their message across to the general public in a more effective manner and at the same time, to harness the views and comments from the public as well.
However, the next morning almost 30 journalists, together with representatives from the Foreign Press Center - Nicole, Matthew, Dorris and Neil - were at the U.S. Department of State building. After the routine and strict security check-ups, we were taken to the Treaty Room, just to look around. This was prior to the scheduled meeting with Alec Ross - Senior Advisor for Innovation to U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Gordon Duguid - State Department Deputy Spokesman.
Then something happened.. Our guides from the Foreign Press Center pointed at a row of chairs laid out at the entrance to the U.S. Secretary of State and said, we're taking a picture. Just sit here and gather round but leave the middle seat empty. So as we were curiously assembling as we were told, I happened to overhear Matthew saying "Hillary Clinton" and I quickly turned. I couldn't believe my ears, so I asked, "Matt, did you just say Hillary Clinton is going to be here?". And he was like "Shhhhh..." And the next thing you know, the door opened.
Someone came out.
There was tension.
There was anticipation and excitement in the air...
And then she arrived.
U.S. Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton herself arrived in the presence of 30 exclaiming foreign journalists and bloggers.
She spoke to us briefly, asking from which countries we were from and she invited just a few questions. Three lucky journalists managed to ask questions before she said "let's take a picture".
Answering the questions from the group, On Uganda she said that Uganda should not kill people for being homosexual and that the United States was monitoring this.
And on the Israeli and Palestinian issue at that time she said that the US government is of the view that Palestinians should have a state of their own and at the same time, Israelis have a right to live in peace.
Meanwhile speaking on Azerbaijan she said that the Obama administration spoke out when Azerbaijan bloggers were arrested by the government, adding that the U.S. government is working on resolving the Azerbaijan and Armenian issues.