A Historic Day of Reporting at the White House

Embracing progression, firsts of our own

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President Barack Obama discusses his economic recovery plan at a town hall meeting in Elkhart, Indiana Feb. 9. (Source: WhiteHouse.gov)

It started with a phone call from a member of the White House press office on a chilly Saturday night. “I’m calling to let you know that Black Enterprise will be the first black publication to get an interview with the president,” he said.

My lips curled into a smile.

We were given the opportunity, in part, because President Obama wanted to share his perspective about his American Recovery and Reinvestment Act to our readership. Like much of America, a number of B.E. readers have felt the devastating effects of an economic downturn unlike no other in the past 30 years — possibly since the Great Depression.

It was important that our readers heard, in the president’s own words, about how his economic recovery plan will help create jobs, provide much-needed relief, and open business opportunities.

It also meant coming full circle: Our magazine has covered Obama for five years, chronicling his impressive campaign to reach the U.S. Senate and his even more amazing ascent to the presidency of the United States. I’ve had the opportunity to meet and talk to him during cover shoots and interview sessions.

But interviewing candidate Obama was different than interviewing President Obama — even over the phone. This would be our magazine’s first interview with a sitting president.

I’ve never been starstruck. I’ve met and interviewed the nation’s most powerful CEOs, entrepreneurs, and politicians.

But sitting in the media relations office of the Executive Office Building, adjacent to the White House, this interview was different.

It’s not every day you talk to the leader of the free world. In fact, I brought two digital recorders. The moment is every journalist’s dream.

“Good afternoon, Mr. President. Thank you for granting this interview,” I said.

“Derek, it’s good to talk to you again,” he replied.

We spent the next 15 minutes discussing how his plan would create jobs, provide relief for the unemployed and distressed homeowners, and his administration’s plans to reform the Small Business Administration. Talking to me after the town hall in Elkhart, Indiana, one of the cities in the Midwest that has had the greatest growth in unemployment, he discussed the issues with his usual eloquence and clarity with a heavy dose of compassion: “Let your readers know help is on the way.”

(*Update: I received a call from Josh Gerstein of Politico soon after our interview published. Apparently, the interview was the first in print for President Obama since his inauguration.)

I also got a second chance to see President Obama and be a part of history. On Feb. 9, along with scores of journalists from the leading media outlets and some local publications, I got a front-row seat at a time-honored tradition: the presidential press conference. It was, of course, the 44th president’s first such session. Mine too. Representatives from print, online, and broadcast media outlets filled the East Room of the White

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  • Derek, awesome. Congratulations! I’m so glad you wrote this piece because I’d only read that the Black press had been ignored. That goes to show that no matter how thin something is, there are always two sides. Thanks for sharing this and I look forward to reading that issue.

  • What wonderful news, Derek. It is appropriate and timely that Black Enterprise was chosen for this auspicious recognition by the White House and President Obama. As the premiere source of information on the Black business community in America, there was clearly no other media source more deserving. Of course, with your charming demeanor and incomparable knowledge, we are all certain that we will be seeing more messages like this from you as BE covers the Obama years.

    Thanks for sharing, Derek, and keep up the excellent work!

  • Denita

    Hi Derek, congratulatins to you and BE. I, too, had heard that the black press had been ignored. Thanks for setting the record straight.

    For God is not unjust to forget your work and labor of love which you have shown toward His name… and thus, having patiently waited, he “you” obtained the promise… Heb 6: 10-15