The Foster Conference Fosters Feller’s Charisma
“You should read my early coverage of bear hunting. It was awesome.” Let that sink in for a moment.
Two chairs sat on the State Theatre stage, separated by a small table holding two coffee mugs. But no, James Lipton and Inside the Actor’s Studio were not making a guest appearance. The stage was set for Ben Feller, the chief White House correspondent for the Associated Press and owner of the above quote, to own the night.
Feller’s speech emphasized the keys to deadline writing, but it was his character that stole the show. On stage in front of a full theater, Feller read some of his most recognized articles, Bill Clinton impersonation included, and then took questions. It was obvious that his front row seat during Obama’s press conferences had given him a few lessons in charismatic public speaking. He charmed the crowd and made them laugh, all the while making his points heard.
One of Feller’s most treasured stories, his piece on President Obama’s secret visit to Dover Air Force Base, was presented to the crowd. He felt it was a story where “the atmospherics were not a luxury,” but instead were essential to the story.
“I was telling the editor about this,” Feller said, “and she said, ‘Just put me there.”
His ability to write a story quickly but creatively, something he stressed was important to deadline writing, was put to the test.
“There’s so much emphasis on who broke the story,” he said, but “the craft of writing is overlooked.”
As if that wasn’t difficult enough, according to Feller, President Obama has stated that this was the most powerful moment he’s been a part of as president. Talk about deadline pressure.
What followed was Feller’s account of former President Bill Clinton’s visit to the White House. This was the moment for Feller’s lively personality to shine through. Despite the often serious tone of political writing, there is room for fun, and Feller finds it. While other writers focused on the Obama-Clinton press conference, the AP’s White House correspondent paid attention to details, one of his most important keys to successful deadline writing.
In fact, in his article “Bill’s Back: Clinton Commands the Stage”, he informs the audience, “That was the news. But it wasn’t the story.” The fact that the two men weren’t scheduled to hold a meeting with the press but chose to do so anyways, was the story. That and the knowledge that the only reason any reporters were there to see it was due to the two men’s difficulty unlocking a door.
In a way, Feller’s question and answer session that followed paralleled Inside the Actor’s Studio. Aspiring journalists filled the theater while Ford Risley, Head of the Department of Journalism at Penn State, played the role of James Lipton. It was certainly no less entertaining as Feller answered Risley’s and student’s questions.
Risley asked him what stories he enjoyed writing the most, to which Feller responded, “Ones where I know I can make a real connection with people.” He joked however, that he only enjoys the stories after they’ve been written.
When asked how he manages such a hectic lifestyle, he told the crowd, “Two White House reporters with a kid on the way? We’ve got it all set.”
That confidence to speak freely coupled with the personality to charm made it obvious why the AP has him front and center with Obama. And it doesn’t hurt that he can write.