Teen Reporters Visit the Front Lines of Impeachment Battle
Two fresh-faced Minnesota journalists got a warm reception from U.S. senators last month, during a week in which the Senate grappled with setting procedural rules for President Clinton's impeachment trial.
"As soon as they heard a young voice, they turned around and listened and answered and kind of preached," said Sanja Partalo, a 16-year-old junior at Edison High School in Minneapolis. "It was great."
Ms. Partalo and Tara Zapp, 17, a senior at St. Paul Central High School, came to the nation's capital on a three-day reporting trip organized by the Humphrey Forum Youth News Service. The service is a project of the Humphrey Forum, a museum of history, government, and politics at the University of Minnesota.
The nonprofit news service, created in 1994, supplies stories for distribution to 40 Minnesota newspapers, as well as radio commentaries and news reports for a Minneapolis radio station and a weekly cable television show.
Accompanied by two journalism advisers with the Humphrey Forum, the young reporters witnessed the Senate vote to go into a closed-door session to decide the framework for the impeachment trial. They filed several print stories from Washington, and Ms. Partalo phoned in five-minute daily reports for Minnesota Public Radio.
Last week, they were still using the trip to prepare stories on young people's attitudes toward leadership, on their role models, and on their reporting experience.
In the Spotlight
The students agreed that they didn't mind receiving special treatment from the Minnesota congressional delegation, which gave them Senate gallery passes and plenty of one-on-one time. Other lawmakers also were intrigued, or perhaps relieved, by the youthful additions to the press corps, though some senators assumed the normal rules of journalistic engagement were suspended.
For example, when Ms. Zapp wormed her way into a circle of reporters and TV cameramen and asked Democratic Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts how the impeachment trial would affect America's young people, he gave her a turnaround that he probably wouldn't try on Sam Donaldson of ABC.
"He said, 'I'm going to be the reporter and ask you that question,' " Ms. Zapp recalled. "All the cameras turned around on me; it scared the hell out of me."
Mr. Kerry also asked her to promise that she would "get some good people into Congress so this kind of thing won't happen again."
But when the students sharpened their questions, they found they were evaded just like the pros. Ms. Zapp asked Steve Behm, the press secretary for Minnesota Republican Rod Grams, whether the senator was going to vote to convict the president "even though two-thirds of Minnesota citizens oppose it."
He dodged that one, she said. "I was like, 'You aren't answering my question,' " Ms. Zapp said.
The two students, both of whom work on their school newspapers, also spent time in the Senate press gallery talking to reporters and editorial columnists about their jobs.
Ms. Zapp wants to become a professional journalist, but has modified her goal: "I decided from this trip that I want to be a columnist, not a reporter. My opinions are so strong."
Ms. Partalo, who is originally from Bosnia, said she's aiming for a career in international relations.
The Humphrey Forum's director, Steve Sandell, said the trip here was just one example of the solid reporting by a core group of 20 students who write for the youth news service from around Minnesota.
Vol. 18, Issue 22, Page 18