The Backstory: 'It gives you goosebumps' to be in the impeachment hearing room

USA TODAY
USA TODAY photographer Jack Gruber, in the middle holding his camera, waits for witnesses to enter the hearing room to testify in the impeachment inquiry of President Trump.

I'm USA TODAY editor-in-chief Nicole Carroll and this is the Backstory, insights into our biggest stories of the week. If you'd like to get the Backstory in your inbox every Friday, subscribe here.

What is the best time to be in the impeachment hearing room?

The 15 minutes between 8:45 and 9 a.m., says USA TODAY photographer Jack Gruber.

The lawmakers are taking their seats on the dais.

The public has just been ushered in.

Dozens of photographers ring the witness table, cameras pointed toward the door where those about to testify will enter.

The door opens. Soft shutter clicks fill the room like sudden, steady rain.

"It gives you goosebumps," Gruber says. He's been photographing on the Hill for more than a decade. But the moment still gets to him.

It's supposed to. The entire scene – the heavy navy curtains with gold fringe, the massive chandelier, the cavernous room – is designed to convey importance, power, gravity.  

Just like the matter at hand. 

I went to Tuesday morning's hearing to see for myself. 

Everyone in the room gets it. The lawmakers listen intently. Watchers take notes on phones. And the journalists – crammed into eight full tables between the witnesses and the public – cover every word.

Tuesday, Army Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman talked in his opening statement about his father's decision to move the family from the Soviet Union 40 years ago, and how Vindman's appearance – speaking freely before lawmakers, was proof he made the right decision.

"Do not worry," he said in remarks aimed at his father, "I will be fine for telling the truth." 

The woman sitting beside me repeated that under her breath, with a bit of awe: "Fine for telling the truth."

Key Takeaways: Vindland contradicts some of Sondland's testimony

These are details you pick up by being in that room.

USA TODAY editor-in-chief Nicole Carroll (standing) surveys the scene inside the House hearing room Tuesday, where Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman was about to testify in the impeachment inquiry of President Trump.

"I view my role as being the eyes and ears in the room for our readers across the nation who can’t witness these hearings," says USA TODAY reporter Christal Hayes. "When you’re in the room you can really get a feel for the different personalities, both of lawmakers and witnesses."

Last Friday, at the public testimony of former Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch, the audience rose to a standing ovation as House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff gaveled the hearing to a close.

USA TODAY reporter Bart Jansen didn't want to misconstrue it. Was the applause for how lawmakers handled the questions, or for how the ambassador answered them? So he went into the audience. 

Cathy Benjamin of Long Island told him she was supporting Yovanovitch. “It was for her that I was applauding – for her courage,” Benjamin said. “I don’t think I was surprised by it, but inspired by it.”

The reporting: Intimidation among key takeaways from the Trump impeachment hearing with Marie Yovanovitch

Kristen DelGuzzi, our managing editor for politics, says it's hard to overstate the significance of this story, and takes incredibly seriously her responsibility as well. 

Her goal? "To make sure you have everything you need to understand this historic story, whether that’s live reporting from inside the hearing room, a closer look at key players, a place to read all the testimony, or easy-to-follow guides." 

What are the takeaways here? Treat this important, powerful moment with the gravity it deserves. Original reporting matters. Being there matters. Context matters. Different perspectives matter. 

And most importantly – truth matters. 

We made some news this week as well

New Media Investment Group and Gannett, owner of USA TODAY, completed their merger Tuesday, creating the largest U.S. media company by print circulation. Our new company, which took the Gannett name, will also vie for the nation's biggest online news and information audience.

There is much to be sorted out as our two companies combine, but I'm excited by the ability to now share resources among 261 daily newspapers (as well as a significant number of weeklies). We're now in 46 states and 20 state capitals. Combined, we have more than 150 dedicated investigative journalists.

We started sharing content Wednesday by publishing a story from the Palm Beach Post about Jeffrey Esptein on the front page of USA TODAY. There is incredible potential here to partner on, share and spread outstanding local journalism.

To be sure, the challenges facing journalism are great. But so is the passion and talent of our now 5,000 journalists.

Nicole Carroll is the editor-in-chief of USA TODAY. She is a Pulitzer Prize winning journalist, Benjamin C. Bradlee "Editor of the Year” and proud mom of three. Comments? Questions? Reach her at EIC@usatoday.com or follow her on Twitter here. If you'd like to get the Backstory in your inbox every Friday, subscribe here.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Backstory goes inside the impeachment hearing room