The professional press corps has been frozen out of Michelle Obama's swing through China. But the White House has partnered with CNN to bring in amateurs. Katie Hawkins-Gaar, a CNN editor, coordinated the effort to solicit and accumulate submissions from "iReporters" interested in asking questions about the "importance of students learning from one another's cultures," Mrs. Obama's stated emphasis for this trip.
The White House's webpage dedicated to the first lady's trip describes the "assignment" as follows:
CNN iReport Assignment: iReporters in the U.S. and around the world have submitted questions for the First Lady about study abroad. Stay tuned to watch Mrs. Obama answer questions from Beijing.
The link takes visitors to CNN's website where 19 iReporters signed up to participate with 349 iReports filed:
All of the questions have been recorded and submitted to CNN in advance of the trip, and the public is invited to "[s]tay tuned to watch Mrs. Obama answer questions from Beijing."
The White House also links to a PBS website which invites people to "Take a Virtual Trip to China with the First Lady," and in turn, links back to the White House website.
Additionally, Discovery Education has joined forces with the White House as well, and "Jeff Wood, an American student from D.C. who is currently studying abroad in China, will pose questions to the First Lady on behalf of Discovery Education's online audience" while Mrs. Obama is in Beijing. Discovery links back to the White House website as well.
Finally, the U.S. embassy in China has arranged for two Chinese microblogging websites to solicit questions for the first lady to answer on her trip as well:
Q&A with Youth in China: The U.S. Embassy has invited their social media followers on Chinese microblogging websites Sina and QQ Weibo to post questions for the First Lady. While in China, Mrs. Obama will answer questions about her visit. The First Lady's responses will be posted in Mandarin on the Embassy’s social media platforms.
The Obama administration has gone to great lengths to centralize available information about Mrs. Obama's trip to China. Together with updates on Twitter and Instagram, the White House will be keeping a blog tracking the first lady's progress. Since there will be few alternatives, these outlets, along with iCNN, PBS, and Discovery Education, will likely garner significant attention throughout the week-long visit.