John L. Tomlin ’08 joined hundreds of journalists on the presidential campaign trail this month, hoping to give young voters a different perspective on the races. The Political Science major will spend time in Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina, where he will post daily news clips through Feb. 5 at www.MeetThePrez.net.
“The media has been covering the campaign the same way for decades,” Tomlin said recently while taking a break in Iowa. “All the stories are about who has more money or who’s doing better in the polls. I’m trying to find out more about the personalities of the candidates and offer a new, fresh, ‘outside’ perspective.”
Tomlin, who is from Briarcliff Manor in Westchester County, N.Y, grew up around TV. His father, John M. Tomlin, was the former executive producer of both “A Current Affair” and “Inside Edition.” The younger Tomlin pursued radio and television internships at Fox News and with the “O’Reilly Factor” and “Howard Stern Show,” which had a great impact on his life.
“I never discussed politics with my father until last year,” Tomlin said. “I distinctly remember us having dinner at Cornell’s Italian restaurant (in Schenectady) when I said, ‘There’s no news medium targeting college students in terms of the [presidential] campaign. I think a college student should go out and cover it from their perspective.’”
Tomlin had the background and training, having worked at Union’s television station, TVUC, since the Winter ’07 term. He started and produced the station’s first weekly news show, “News on the U,” and also helped station president Dave Swift ’08 expand the membership to nearly 20 students.
Working with his advisor, Associate Professor and Chair of Political Science Zoe Oxley, Tomlin secured a $1,000 grant from the College. He also borrowed a camera, sound and lighting equipment from his father’s production company in Tarrytown, N.Y. Tomlin handles all of the technical aspects of the project, including shooting and producing the videos and uploading the files to the Web.
“Professor Oxley has been really supportive and encouraging, but I’m not that great with the Web stuff,” he confessed. “I’m using YouTube to embed and archive past interviews, and if I need help I call my dad.”
Tomlin is a regular fixture at nearly all of the press conferences held by the candidates from both the Democrat and Republican parties.
“The smaller candidates have media availability sessions and it can be wild and crazy or an intimate setting,” he said. “When I spoke to Ron Paul (R-Texas) there were only four other people so we got a lot of face time. But, you have to be confident enough to blurt out your question or you may not be able to sneak it in.”
And, the candidates’ reactions?
“They don’t really notice me,” laughed Tomlin. “I have interviews with them, but I’m like a fly on the wall.”
He aims to ask the more offbeat questions that the candidates aren’t used to answering.
“When I interviewed Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney, the press was asking him about Mike Huckabee’s politics,” Tomlin explained. “I asked him what he was doing to reach out to young voters, and he seemed taken aback.”
Political Science majors at Union aren’t required to complete a thesis, so Tomlin developed his venture into a senior project. He also plans to make a documentary about his experiences after he graduates in June.
A registered Democrat, Tomlin describes his political views as being “pretty split down the middle.”
“I approach news with a sense of satire, humor and wit, which I learned from the Stern show,” Tomlin explained. “I think young people enjoy [my clips] because they inform and entertain. I hope kids see my Web site and find politics resonates with them, too.”