This essay is excerpted from A Responsible Press Office in the Digital Age, published by the Bureau of International Information Programs.
No matter the presidential administration, the White House press secretary typically begins his or her day very early by scanning the print and online news at home, while also listening to news broadcasts. This early start gives the spokesperson a good idea of issues reporters will be covering and asking about during the work day.
The in-office day begins around 7:30 a.m. with an early meeting attended by top White House staff, typically including the president’s chief of staff, chief deputies and key advisers. This has been described by Martha Joynt Kumar in Managing the President’s Message: The White House Communications Operation as a decision meeting. A second, much larger meeting follows. It is double the size and comprised of people running various White House operations and is mainly an informational meeting focused on expected activities and issues of the day.
At the operations meeting, the press secretary focuses on news items he or she anticipates arising during the day and what messages he or she hopes to communicate. The press secretary follows these two meetings with another one with his or her press office staff. They discuss the day’s principal news: what they anticipate and what they want to communicate.
The spokesperson may also do a morning gaggle, or informal briefing, with the reporters who usually cover the White House, to exchange information on the president’s schedule and message that day and reporters’ likely topics.
Much of the rest of the morning is spent preparing for the afternoon televised press briefing. Deputy and assistant press secretaries track subject areas and government agencies and spend the morning gathering information to help the press secretary answer questions expected to come up in the televised briefing.
Typically the press secretary or deputy press secretary has a daily conference call with his or her counterparts in the departments of State and Defense and the Office of National Security Affairs, among others, to formulate a single message on foreign affairs issues.
The daily briefing, usually held in the early afternoon, is broadcast live, transcribed and sent around the U.S. government and to world leaders, as well as posted on the White House website in written transcript and video format. Some cable television channels also broadcast the session live.
After the briefing, the press secretary and his or her staff spend much of the rest of the day answering questions from reporters and attending meetings with the president and other senior staff. At the end of the day, there usually is a wrap-up meeting with senior White House officials to go over the news and events of the day and anticipate the next.
The cycle starts all over again the following morning.