Behind the Scenes at the New White House Briefing Room Redesigned for the 24/7 News Cycle
The White Briefing Room Series
Part One: The Technology
On the surface, the revamped and spiffed-up White House Press Briefing Room looks like a clean, well-lighted and more streamlined version of its old self. But largely hidden from public view is evidence of the extensive cutting-edge technology — not to mention the intensive labor — that went into the 2006-07 renovation.
For instance, that rich, royal blue backdrop behind the podium? Not blue at all. “That’s an entirely new backdrop with lots of LEDs,” says Scott Sforza, the former White House deputy assistant communications director and director of the renovation project. “Those lights can make the backdrop any color of the spectrum.”
Complete walls were torn out. A stairwell to access cabling in the deep end of the pool below the briefing room floor was dug and installed. (Yes, the briefing room is atop the old White House swimming pool.) New wiring, new lighting, new air conditioning (finally serious air flow), and pretty much new everything went in.
Sforza, a former ABC News producer and longtime Visual Message producer for the Bush White House, told WHC Insider, “Everything needed to be torn up and replaced, it was time to get into the 21st Century.”
The equivalent of the captain’s chair on the Starship Enterprise, as it were, is the podium, which features an array of electronic controls that a briefer can command while briefing. One is a preview screen, which shows the same images that the two (new) plasma displays show to reporters. The podium can also be lowered or raised, to suit the height of the briefer. Ditto the White House seal set against the backdrop. Lighting can also be controlled at the podium.
Seats for reporters are each equipped with Internet and telephone access and are wired with fiber optics. There are 49 seats, but the room has been known to hold more than double that number of people when a big breaking story draws SRO crowds. A White House spokeswoman says no one in the press office knows exactly how many people the briefing room can hold. To see the assigned-seating chart for reporters in the briefing room, click on “WH Briefing Room” on the top navigation bar.
Sforza says the briefing room is particularly “broadcast friendly.” Those images flashing up on the plasma screens, usually points or graphs illustrating policy? The television networks control all of those production elements and can take those images as direct feeds and use them. “The briefing room is now ready to respond to needs of 24/7 news cycle.”
As well it should. The bureau chiefs and the White House Correspondents Association were deeply involved in the whole renovation process. “I mean, it’s their room,” says Sforza.
Who paid for the new briefing room? Sforza says the Office of Administration used government money and the networks paid for their equipment and fiber upgrades.