‘Meet the Press’ goes to college

The franchise is tapping student journalists for reporting and appearances

May 29, 2020

One of the groups most impacted by the pandemic is college students, whose futures are uncertain.

So who better to tell their stories and ask hard questions on a national stage than collegiate journalists themselves?

That’s what NBC News and “Meet the Press” are betting, anyway.

The franchise has launched a five-week digital series called “Meet the Press: College Roundtable,” which will feature college students across America in a weekly virtual panel conversation about the issues impacting them and higher education.

The episodes will air on Fridays on NBC News’ YouTube page and other streaming options. The first episode, launched today, featured student journalists from Florida A&M University in Tallahassee, the University of Texas in Austin and Georgetown University in Washington, D.C.

The student journalists, appearing virtually from their homes alongside host Chuck Todd, interviewed two university presidents: Dr. Wayne A.I. Frederick at Howard University, and Dr. Robert Robbins of the University of Arizona. Questions ranged from those about transparency around pandemic plans to communication across campus.

Panelist Aiyana Ishmael is a rising senior at Florida A&M, a writer for the school’s magazine, Journey, and an intern with Poynter’s MediaWise, a program to teach Americans of all ages digital media literacy skills.

“It was exciting but also nerve-wracking, because this is kind of a big deal,” she said. “It was just an awesome opportunity to be in the inaugural group of college journalists because it’s such an important topic that’s affecting all of us right now and I’ve been hearing so much from my other friends at different universities, so being able to play a role in this conversation was important for me.”

“Meet the Press” host Chuck Todd, right, featured three college students and two university presidents in a panel discussion. From left to right, top: Aiyana Ishmael, Florida A&M University; Gabe Fleisher, Georgetown University; Sami Sparber, University of Texas at Austin; bottom, from left, Dr. Wayne A.I. Frederick, president of Howard University; and Dr. Robert Robbins, president of the University of Arizona.

Ishmael said part of the experience included being coached by Todd on how to ask questions and follow up.

In a midweek prep session, according to a statement, Chuck guided the students in the art of interviewing for a panel discussion, noting that the mission of this roundtable discussion is to “ask the questions that your friends want answered.”

“We’re the ones that are asking the questions,” he told them. “If you don’t get the answer you want, follow up … When you’re on a panel interview or in a press conference in the future, always be prepared with too many questions but remember that the previous question asked may guide your question. You should come with multiple questions but be ready to follow up on someone else’s in the moment.”

In a subsequent email interview, Todd explained why he felt that the student format was important.

“These college students’ experiences, viewpoints and the questions they have shaped this project and the series,” he wrote. “They’re determining the topics, questions and the decision-makers they want to pose questions to, and are working hand-in-hand with our editorial teams to learn directly from them — how to pose questions, how to present themselves on camera, how to play team ball during a panel interview or press conference setting. These are lessons I hope they take with them for their post-collegiate career.”

Todd said that the news driving the day will shape the team’s approach for each episode, and that students were instructed to ask the questions that their friends want answered.

“These are civically engaged and impressive student journalists,” Todd said. “Working with them on this first episode gives me comfort for the future of journalism. “

Barbara Allen is the director of college programming at Poynter. She can be reached at ballen@poynter.org or on Twitter, @barbara_allen_