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Behind the Scenes: Lessons from a colleague from far, far away

Larry Busacca
Getty Images for Syracuse University

WRVO News reporter Ryan Delaney covered the Dalai Lama's two-day visit to Syracuse. He shares some observations on the visit.

I was already nervous enough. Just on the other side of the door I was about to walk into probably the biggest press conference I had ever attended. Certainly the most heavily guarded.Local broadcast and print reporters, photographers, plenty of student journalists, someone from Rolling Stone - we were all waiting to be in the same room as the Dalai Lama.

The exiled spiritual leader of Tibet was at Syracuse University fora two-day event on peace that was about to be capped by a speech and rock concert Tuesday in front of 24,000 people.

Security had been a pain for the past two days. Any sort of schedule was a constantly moving target. The press had a 5 a.m. check-in for Monday's panel discussions and we had a late night ahead of us.

We had already been standing outside the Carrier Dome for several hours. Now we were stuck in a tunnel in the bowels of the Dome.

Shortly before being let into the room, a new friend and colleague found me in the crowd of reporters.

I had met Benpa Topgy - or Ben, as he introduced himself - the morning before at the panel discussions. Ben, a native Tibetan, works for Radio Free Asia based in Washington.

We chatted about work as I helped him with the equipment setup - Ben was a bit green when it comes to field work, preferring the comforts of a studio.

As we waited for the panels full of Nobel Laureates and peace activists to begin, he taught me a few Tibetan phrases.

"Tashi delek" is "hello."

This time, as we waited for the press conference, the topic of conversation was much more serious.

First Ben explained to me that His Holiness doesn't like taking questions from fellow Tibetans on these types of visits, but he had an important issue he wanted to ask about.

Ben wanted to get the Dalai Lama's take on the more than 50 Buddhists who have set themselves on fire in protests that have taken place recently in their native Tibet over Chinese occupation.

I listened closely to my soft-spoken colleague to make sure I had it down. I made no promises that I'd be able to get a question in. He understood, but thanked me fondly anyway.

Once the press conference finally started, the Dalai Lama made some brief remarks and then it was time for questions.

I was even more nervous now.

Bill Carey from YNN got his question in first. I was able to get the third question of the evening. I did my best to articulate Ben's thoughts.

The Dalai Lama began with one of his soft, trademark chuckles. Then he explained to me that this was a very sensitive political topic and he was, at age 77, retired from politics.

As the Dalai Lama answered he kept almost solid eye-contact with me - there would be no note-taking now. He told me these events are a symptom of forces, some of which are caused by Chinese policies.

He called for an investigation on behalf of the Chinese into the protests.

"So, I think, here, important thing is seeking truth from fact," the Dalai Lama said.

When he had moved onto the next question, I looked over my shoulder to find Ben. He gave me a smile and a thumbs-up.

The high of getting to ask the Dalai Lama a question was only topped by the chance to shake his hand a few minutes later as he exited the room. The gratification came when Ben thanked me later. He had achieved what he traveled to Syracuse for.

As a journalist, I have it much easier than Ben, who isn't allowed to visit the country he's relied on to report about. I'll try to remember that always.

"Gyogpo jalyong" (see you soon), Benpa.

You can follow reporter Ryan Delaney on Twitter @RyanWRVO