Know Your Beat: Inside the White House

For a long time, the front left seat in the White House press briefing room has been reserved for NBC News. Get to know the perspective from that seat from Monica Alba, one of seven NBC News correspondents who cover the White House. 

“I relish any opportunity I have to be able to ask the president of the United States a question on any kind of topic,” said Alba, who was a politics unit producer and reporter before she got the White House beat. “You can ask officials all you want, but there really is nothing that substitutes for actually asking the president directly.” 

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Watch our video or read on to see how Alba covers our country’s executive branch.  

What’s the White House like in real life, compared to its portrayal in TV and movies?

There’s a kind of wonder every time you walk through the gates. I always tell people if that’s something you start to lose, it might be time to look for another gig. You have to carry that into whatever work you’re doing. It is really a privilege.    

Unlike a “West Wing” episode, there isn’t always a [tied-up] bow at the end of our day. We often say there are a lot of elements of the show “Veep” in our daily life, combined with some “West Wing” elements — a bit more of a mash-up. 

There is a level of decorum here because, of course, it is the White House. I may be asking tough questions, but I can do it in a respectful and professional manner. Fair questions, but questions that get to the heart of what really matters.

What role does teamwork play in White House coverage?

We have to lean on each other. Not just work stuff, it’s life stuff as well. You end up spending such long days together — producers and correspondents really rely on each other for empathy and humor.  

There’s a lot of stuff behind the scenes that makes you laugh. It’s a very serious job to cover the White House, but you also are a human being. Bringing a little bit of humor and humanity makes it more fun.  

What’s your advice for reporters interested in politics?

Alba in NBC News’ “White House booth.”

I read extensively, whether it’s about a major domestic issue or something abroad. I’m always trying to really go in as prepared as I can.  

Be a really good listener. I need to know if the White House is shifting their stance on [issues, or] nodding to something that they hadn’t before.  

Every once in a while, leave the White House and Washington so you can go somewhere to talk to voters. Get a little bit outside of this beltway mindset and mentality to have a better understanding.