Bush-Putin Meeting, Release Of Baylor Grads In Afghanistan Top Stories For International Journalists

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    Journalists from all over the world filed stories about the Bush-Putin meeting from the International Media Center set up on the Baylor campus.
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    Baylor President Robert B. Sloan Jr. chats with Russian students visiting with the Future Leaders Exchange (FLEX) Program.
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    Russian President Vladimir Putin and President George W. Bush answer questions from high school students during a news briefing at Crawford High School.
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    Baylor President Robert B. Sloan Jr. speaks to the international media about the rescue of Baylor graduates Heather Mercer and Dayna Curry.
Nov. 19, 2001

by Lori Scott Fogleman

Baylor University was home to State Department officials and more than 200 members of the international media Nov. 14-15 as the historic meeting between President George W. Bush and Russian President Vladimir Putin took place only a few miles away at the president's ranch in Crawford.

Radio, television and print media from Russia, Germany, Japan, China, Great Britain, the Middle East and Latin America, as well as U.S. media outlets not members of the White House press corps, were based in an International Media Center set up in the gym of the McLane Student Life Center on the Baylor campus. Reporters who travel regularly with President Bush worked out of a separate facility in Crawford.

In less than 48 hours, Baylor crews transformed the four-court, 24,000-square-foot facility to a working newsroom and filing center for the international media, complete with Internet and phone access, 16 rows of tables and chairs, copiers, fax machines, audio-visual equipment, food service and live satellite feeds of press briefings from Crawford. The university also converted a far court into editing stations for several international news networks, such as Al Jazeera, Associated Press TV, NHK-Japan Broadcasting and European Broadcasting Union (EBU).


The satellite hookup and pool camera crews, which included Baylor telecommunication students Ben Gibson, a senior from Houston, and Cratin Sheffield, a junior from Sugar Land, were provided by Waco public television station KWBU-TV.

KWBU-TV crews shot all news briefings originating from Crawford, including the Bush-Putin news conference at Crawford High School, and sent them via satellite to the SLC for the international media. Joani Livingston, KWBU-TV senior producer and a 1982 Baylor graduate, described covering the historic meeting between the two world leaders as "surreal."

"We found ourselves right in middle of history taking place," she said. "Being at the school in Crawford with both presidents gave us some sense of comfort, not that they are 'best buddies' but that they have the desire to work towards the same goal. That's the way it came across."

Working with the international press also has its lighthearted moments. One of Livingston's favorite memories no doubt will be editing a story for the Russian television network, Moscow TV-6. She spoke no Russian, the Russian reporter very little English, so they resorted to hand signals for rewind and fast-forward to communicate during their editing sessions.

KWBU-TV also shot behind-the-scenes footage for a documentary that Livingston hopes will give Central Texans a glimpse of what it takes to prepare for international dignitaries and the accompanying media and officials. They plan to air the special in January.


Meanwhile, journalists and officials with the Washington-based Foreign Press Center have been highly complimentary of the Baylor facility, as well as the hospitality provided by students, faculty and the city of Waco.

Andrei Sitov, Washington bureau chief for the Russian news agency ITAR-TASS, was among the several Russian journalists based at the SLC media center. The successor to the Soviet TASS news agency was renamed ITAR-TASS in 1992, when Russia proclaimed its sovereignty following the collapse of the USSR. Although still the state central information agency, ITAR-TASS (Information Telegraph Agency of Russia) makes its news resources available to media, academic institutions, organizations and private individuals in Russia and throughout the world.

Sitov said he was most impressed with Baylor and the private and public sectors of the American education system. Sitov said it is important for Russian young people to see and hear American high school students, such as those who attended the presidents' news conference in Crawford, asking perceptive and specific questions of a head of state.

"Students asked Putin some very pointed questions on strategic relations. I believe people in both countries wish there was more time to discuss some of these issues," he said. Sitov had the opportunity to hear additional questions from students on Friday, Nov. 16, when the journalist visited a class led by Dr. Christopher Marsh, director of Baylor's Asian studies program and the author of "Russia at the Polls: Voters, Elections and Democratization" and "Making Russian Democracy Work: Social Capital, Economic Development and Democratization."

International press members battled tight deadlines throughout the presidents' meetings because of the time difference between the U.S. and Europe. However, a smooth technical operation on Baylor's behalf made things more manageable.

"It's been terrific. Everything has worked. We've had plenty of room to work, had all our questions answered," said Roland Watson with the London Times. Watson also said he was "amazed" by the Baylor campus, particularly by its new buildings and latest technology.

Lisa Lane, a field producer with NHK-Japan Broadcasting, took advantage of the time difference to visit the Baylor campus, particularly Armstrong Browning Library and other sites around Waco.

"It was great to be a part of coming to Waco to cover the presidents of Russia and the U.S.," Lane said. "Baylor students have been wonderful. In fact, we had a waiter at a local restaurant who is a member of Antioch Community Church. This was the night before they [Baylor graduates and relief aid workers Dayna Curry and Heather Mercer] were released. It was interesting to see how this town came into national focus while we were here."


Baylor President Robert B. Sloan Jr. had a moment he'll never forget. He was among the dignitaries who greeted President Putin when he and his entourage landed at TSTC airport Nov. 14. "I had the opportunity to get Baylor's name in front of him," Sloan said.

The international visibility afforded Baylor by the international media has been welcome, the president said, but more importantly, Baylor students have benefited from the unique access to those covering the historic events.

"They've been able to watch these journalists from all over the world work and file their stories from Baylor, they were invited to Crawford and heard Presidents Bush and Putin address important issues and answer audience questions, and our international students, many from Russia, were special guests and sat just to the left of the First Ladies at Crawford High School," Sloan said.

Sloan also attended a reception in the SLC for international journalists, Baylor faculty, staff and students, and Russian high school students involved in FLEX (Future Leaders Exchange Program). During that Nov. 14 gathering, Sloan received word of the release of Curry and Mercer in Afghanistan and announced the "good news" to the international media during a quickly arranged news conference.


Officials with the Foreign Press Center, which is under the State Department, were pleased with the way "Baylor people took care of our every need" during the three days the media center was open.

"We're not used to this level of service," said Liza Davis with the Foreign Press Center.

Davis said her office works directly with international media based in the U.S., arranging meetings and helping journalists develop contacts. When foreign heads of state or other dignitaries visit America, the Foreign Press Center sets up a media center, just as it did at Baylor.

Davis said not to be surprised if they make a return visit to Baylor and Waco during the Bush presidency.

"We plan to encourage President Bush to hold more international meetings in nearby Crawford," she said. "Baylor has spoiled us."

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