Reporter’s Perspective: Behind-the-scenes of Steve King’s visit to Sioux Center
I’ve said it before but one of the biggest selling points that convinced me to join the Journal staff was how this paper embraces the internet.
I will always love holding the actual print product more; however, newspapers have no choice but to step up online to in order to survive what’s become a digital-first world.
The way it was pitched to me was like this: We tweet the news, write an online version and then create a print version/final web version.
That strategy hasn’t always worked, but it’s the basic barebones method we use for covering an event or breaking news story.
I put that outline to use a few weeks ago covering what basically amounted to three things at once: An anti-Steve King event that started a little before 6 p.m., a media session with the congressman at 6:15 followed by a town hall-like forum at 7 p.m. led by him.
With that much activity and a tight print deadline, I knew it would be a challenge to try to get all of that in the story; however, I knew if live tweeted it — thank God the Sioux Center Public Library has wi-fi — I could capture more things.
So here are my tweets and some additional behind-the-scenes tidbits.
Frankly, I was pretty excited to cover this.
King had made national headlines, again, that week for his latest controversy involving Parkland survivor Emma Gonzalez and there was already a protest rally scheduled by constituents who are dissatisfied with his leadership and stances so I expected fireworks.
. @SteveKingIA is going to be the keynote speaker at tonight’s Sioux County Conservatives event at the Sioux Center Public Library.A counter assembly featuring @CyndiHanson6, who is challenging King in the Republican primary, is also taking place outside the library. pic.twitter.com/DY0934b5Pi — Ty Rushing (@SCJTRush) March 29, 2018
Photographer Justin Wan and I arrived earlier than we had too, but it gave us a chance to stake out some good spots and get a feel for the crowd.
I also used that time to chit-chat with some familiar faces before I would have to go into what I like to call “reporter mode.”
The kid in the stroller was perfect; however, its sibling may go onto my fabled enemies list.
I kept trying to get a picture of the kid holding his sign, but he kept holding it and waving it in front of the baby in the stroller, which kind of defeats the purpose of the sign but makes for excellent sibling trolling.
LeAnn Jacobsen of Spencer, who is running against King as a Democrat, speaks with a woman who strongly disagrees with the congressman’s views on immigration. pic.twitter.com/gxAMmJ3uoa — Ty Rushing (@SCJTRush) March 29, 2018
This was my first time meeting LeAnn Jacobsen, one of three Democrats hoping to challenge King in the fall.
I don’t know her as well as King’s Republican challenger Cindy Hanson — she’s a current MRHD board member and I cover that board — but she made a good first impression on me.
It was freaking cold out there, but I think the crowd was so fired up and engaged by the speakers they didn’t care or notice. I hopped in out at the nearest library door to keep my hands warm up to write notes.
During one of those trips, I struck up a conversation with a couple of King supporters who were caught off-guard about what was taking place outside.
One of them, Dennis Moore, who I later interviewed, pondered if he would be safe out there since he was wearing a “MAGA” hat. I assured him he would be OK and he stepped outside to listen for a bit.
I also made a rookie mistake of not bringing a pencil to write with — I prefer pens, but they tend to freeze in cold weather.
There’s a group of about 10 high school boys patiently waiting to meet King in the library’s conference room.“I can’t wait to meet my boy King and shake his hand,” one of them said.— Ty Rushing (@SCJTRush) March 29, 2018
At this point, I went back to the library’s conference room since it was about time for King’s media session; however, the door was locked.
One of the boys I mentioned in this tweet got the OK from event organizer Jacob Hall to let me in since I was media and the young lad quizzed me about which outlet I was with.
When I told him the Journal, he went, “Good. As long as you’re not CNN you’re OK, I guess.”
Jacob told us which door King would be coming through so all the media folks and I shuffled over.
The guy in the photo with King is Mark Dunlap, the new managing editor of the Sioux Center News, who I met that night. Nice guy and like all veteran journalists he has some stories.
I re-introduced myself to the congressman and then we dived into the presser.
Update: The group all wore Trump T-shirts and posed for pics with King.“This has been planned for a couple weeks as soon as we found out he was coming to town,” said Ben Granstra, 18, of Sheldon, who plans to vote for King in the fall should he win his primary. https://t.co/6vNMGbZ8SK — Ty Rushing (@SCJTRush) March 29, 2018
We had a little bit of time before the policy portion of the “Pizza and Policy” event began so I checked with Jacob to see if they had some pizza to spare.
Once I got the all clear, I mowed down two slices of Pizza Hut. Journalists love free food.
While I’m not complaining about anything free because that’s blasphemous, it tasted about how I remembered Pizza Hut tasting. Interpret that any way you wish.
The anti-King event outside has ended and many of the participants are packing the conference room.Signs have been banned from the room. pic.twitter.com/xw2mIYsFbr — Ty Rushing (@SCJTRush) March 29, 2018
I started typing out a bit of my story based on the media time with King and the supporters present — the library closed at 9 p.m., which was the same time as my print deadline — and I noticed Mark getting up to take photos.
I looked back and saw some of the anti-King crowd was starting to enter and I thought, “Business is about to pick up!”
For some reason, I didn’t think they would be granted access to the event since there’s some history between some of the protestors and the Sioux County Conservatives, the group behind the event.
Once I saw they were indeed in the house, I knew whatever I pre-wrote was now pretty much obsolete, which only sucked because I had a really good transition in the second graph of my original draft.
Moderator Jacob Hall told the crowd no signs are allowed, all questions must be written and handed to him and anyone who disrupts will be ejected.— Ty Rushing (@SCJTRush) March 30, 2018
When Jacob made this announcement, my hopes of an explosive back-and-forth dwindled but weren’t quite extinguished.
I was equal parts impressed with how well he controlled the situation and disappointed that it wasn’t going to be a true open forum with an active back-and-forth.
I’ve covered a few of these types of forums over the years and they are always fascinating.
The one I enjoyed covering the most took place in a packed community center in the metropolis of Ocheyedan, Iowa, when Sen. Chuck Grassley was taking heat over blocking Obama’s pick for the Supreme Court.
The event started with a three-minute video of controversial comments from Democrats and “Hollywood liberals” in the interest of fairness and balance, Hall said.— Ty Rushing (@SCJTRush) March 30, 2018
Jacob dropped a few dad jokes involving snowflakes — to be fair, the dude has like 40 kids and I’m only half-joking — before showing this video, which I had to bite my lip to keep from laughing at.
Bringing Jeremiah Wright up in 2018 is like having a Blackberry, asking what is Twitter, having hope for the third film in the original “Spider-Man” trilogy and dealing with whatever things people in 2007 dealt with.
Close to a 100 people in the room and I’d say the anti-King crowd has a slight edge in numbers.— Ty Rushing (@SCJTRush) March 30, 2018
The video ended and I did another crowd scan and more people from the protest had come in, although not all as one letter to editor writer liked to point out.
After an introduction from State Rep. Skyler Wheeler, King has started discussing “the heartbeat bill” that’s making the rounds in the Iowa House. He’s creating a version that he hopes is passed and goes into effect at the federal level.— Ty Rushing (@SCJTRush) March 30, 2018
“That lit things up pretty fast around the world,” King said of President Trump’s recent tariffs on steel and aluminum. King followed up by noting he is against them and supports free trade.— Ty Rushing (@SCJTRush) March 30, 2018
King spoke at length about the steel and aluminum tariffs, something Iowa’s entire congressional delegation opposed.
King is about to start taking pre-written questions from the crowd.— Ty Rushing (@SCJTRush) March 30, 2018
I really wish this portion of the meeting had been audience members asking questions directly.
However, to be fair, I will note the congressman did try to start a dialog with one individual after they posed a question, but the written questions only rule was carved in stone.
When asked how to fill vacant ag jobs in Iowa, King suggested better wages to lure unemployed people from urban areas to places where the jobs are. “People follow the money,” he said.— Ty Rushing (@SCJTRush) March 30, 2018
Before laying blame at the feed of the judges, King pointed out that Trump had done a great job of keeping most of his campaign promises and that he wanted to see him come through with this one.
“Harmless, right?” Hall joked as the program closed. King spoke for about an hour and the entire event was pretty civil and orderly.— Ty Rushing (@SCJTRush) March 30, 2018
It really was.
I sent this tweet out when we got back to the office a little bit after 10 after a 50-minute drive from Sioux Center.
Before we left Sioux Center, I had to write my butt off in order to try to finish this thing before the library closed and took away its precious wi-fi and spacious work area.
What made matters worse is that I forgot to bring my headphones, which you kind of need to listen to recordings.
After a mad scramble to find a pair — the library sold earbuds for a dollar, which I had to borrow — and a few people who wanted to talk about the event, I was able to start writing with about 30 minutes left before deadline.
I wasn’t able to get everything I wanted to in the story, but with an expedited deadline, a short amount of room in print and a lot of things happening at once, I’m proud of what I was able to produce.
I even got a “good job” from Peggy, our chief copy editor and a former reporter who’s been in the business longer than I’ve been alive.
It also helps that being part of a digital-first outlet, we consider the little things we do such as live tweeting events part of the coverage.
Even though everything wasn’t in print, most of what took place that day was highlighted through my open to the public Twitter feed.
So, please, feel free to follow me for additional coverage and a lot of tweets about everything I mention in my bio.