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Katelyn Van Buskirk ’17 takes the stage.

CNN Experience Takes Intern to Presidential Debate

There are internships, and then there are internships like the one Katelyn Van Buskirk ’17 landed during the 2015 fall semester.

Van Buskirk interned full-time in the public relations department of CNN while completing her Washington Semester. Students take classes at the Washington Media Institute in Washington, D.C., while working their internships.

In addition to working behind the scenes on shows such as “The Situation Room” with Wolf Blitzer, Van Buskirk got the rare opportunity to travel with the CNN team to Las Vegas for the Dec. 15 Republican debate.

“That was the most unbelievable thing I’ve ever been a part of,” said Van Buskirk the morning after the debate. “It was amazing. I got emotional at the end. I couldn’t believe it was over.”

The CNN team arrived in Las Vegas three days before the event to finalize preparations. Van Buskirk’s duties included standing in for candidate Ted Cruz at his podium position for two days while Blitzer and the camera crews practiced angles, tested audio and set lighting equipment.

“We talked about nonsense for hours,” Van Buskirk said. “We’d talk about music, TV. It was really fun.”

Rubbing Elbows with Blitzer
The CNN public relations office also had a hand in preparations for the Democratic debate in October, which was moderated by CNN’s Anderson Cooper. Van Buskirk was part of a team that handled press credentialing and organization for the event.

Her primary job throughout the semester involved working on “The Situation Room.” She attended meetings every day with Blitzer and a team of about 20 people. She helped promote press coverage for daily guests and tracked which media outlets mentioned the show during the news cycle.

“Wolf is really good at his job,” she said. “He was very nice to me. I’m just an intern who sat at the end of the table. The highlight of the semester was working with him.”

Gaining Valuable Experience
Van Buskirk picked up some real-world exposure to the world of public relations last summer. She worked an internship with a PR agency in Chicago, where she learned to write press releases and pitch story ideas to media outlets.

The CNN experience introduced her to the high-stress world of big-time media, where on-air talent is the client.

“There’s a lot of pressure and you don’t want to mess up,” she said. “I loved CNN, but it made me appreciate college more. I wouldn’t have been able to have this opportunity if I didn’t go to St. Norbert.”

Going Out on Top
The Republican debate was the climax of the semester. But the evening didn’t end with the televised portion of the debate. Candidates exited the stage to what’s known as the Spin Room, where campaign managers spin their candidate’s performance in the best possible light for the assembled media.

“Photographers are on top of each other, and then there’s me sitting with my iPhone,” Van Buskirk laughed. “I’m so sad it’s over. It was the perfect way to end the semester. It was the best day of my life to this point. It was a lot of work with 14- to 15-hour days, but I’m really glad they took me.”

Van Buskirk hopes to head back to the East Coast for a summer internship, either in Washington or New York.

Feb. 2, 2016