Journalist for NPR discusses presidential coverage on campus

Writing skills are invaluable for any college graduate, said a veteran journalist and former White House correspondent for National Public Radio, NPR, to an audience at St. Edward’s University. 

Don Gonyea, currently a national political correspondent for NPR, visited the campus on Feb. 7 and spoke to Professor Jena Heath’s Journalism I class about his career covering the White House and politics for a national audience.

“It’s both the best job you’ve ever had and the worst job you’ve ever had,” Gonyea said of his former position as NPR’s White House correspondent.

Gonyea, who lives in Washington D.C., was in Austin as a featured journalist for Michele Kay Distinguished Speakers Series, an occasional program The Headliners Foundation hosts in honor of former journalism professor and Hilltop Views faculty adviser Michele Kay. 

Heath invited Gonyea to campus to talk about his experience as a reporter with an audience of students, faculty and staff in the McCarthy Room, Fleck Hall 305.

Gonyea spent nine years with the White House press corps from 2001 until 2010 throughout the President George W. Bush administration and was also with President Barack Obama for two years of his first term. 

Gonyea’s coverage of national politics, from what he referred to as “the center of the universe,” included live reports of White House evacuations on Sept. 11, 2001. Gonyea also traveled and provided coverage of the 2008 Obama presidential campaign.

“It’s probably one of the strangest jobs,” Gonyea said. “The vast majority of your audience has an opinion about your story before you have even said word one.”

Gonyea said he was one of 50 to 60 journalists that made up the White House press corps at the time. Every reporter is prepared to ask the president a question during a press conference, though not everyone gets a chance.

“I spent three and a half years kind of being ignored by the guy I was covering,” Gonyea said, referring to Bush.

Bush called on Gonyea for the first time three and a half years after he took the position as NPR’s White House correspondent.

“He said ‘I’m going to ask one more question from a guy I’ve never heard from,’” Gonyea said. “I remember thinking  ‘thanks a lot.’”

Briana Bracey enjoyed Gonyea’s recount of the first time he asked Bush a question.

“It was a really insightful way to look at it,” Bracey said.

For Bracey, a communication major with a broadcast journalism and media specilization, the event provided an opportunity for her to meet a journalist from a media group she is interested in interning with.

“This summer I want to intern for NPR,” Bracey said. “It reassured my decision to look for an organization like National Public Radio … it reassured keeping in mind the listeners and getting the firsthand account from him for NPR that he embodies their views as his own journalistic self.”

Biology professor and NPR listener William Quinn attended the Feb. 7 event.  

“To me he’s Hollywood. He’s Don Gonyea,” Quinn said. “I’m a groupie. I completely agree with him when he said the White House was the center of the universe.”

For Gonyea, working in the White House provided a new perspective of the president.

“When you’re there every day and you’re seeing them most days, you get a sense of them as a human being,” Gonyea said, referring to both Bush and Obama.