NBC's Kristen Welker & Peter Alexander on Being in the 'Front Row' of a Headline-Making Year
Kristen Welker and Peter Alexander haven’t overlooked the fact they have VIP access to history.
The two NBC White House correspondents and the co-hosts of Weekend Today on Saturdays both sit just a few feet away from President Donald Trump during his novel coronavirus press briefings at the White House.
“Every time I walk through the White House gates, if you don't stop and take it in and recognize that you are a witness to history, it's time for you, frankly, to get a new job,” Welker, 44, tells PEOPLE. “Because every minute of everything that we're covering is history-making and frankly remarkable.”
And the moments are going to continue to be remarkable this week — as Alexander and Welker to Wilmington, Delaware, to cover the Democratic National Convention, which kicked off Monday as the 2020 campaign enters its final months.
"I said to my wife as we were wrapping up dinner and putting our daughters to bed last night, I said, 'So, I think this is sort of it for us until November. I hope you're well,' " says Alexander, also 44. "Because it's going to be nonstop."
While the news cycle is always spinning, the coronavirus pandemic forced many television news anchors to blend their work life with their family life in ways they never expected — working from home, having discussions with family about the day's news and even, at times, briefly becoming the news themselves.
In March, for example, Alexander made headlines during one of Trump's briefings when he asked the president: "What do you say to Americans who are watching you right now and are scared?”
Trump, 74, responded: “I’d say that you’re a terrible reporter, that’s what I’d say.”
When Alexander, got home that night, his 5-year-old daughter, Emma, stopped him. "I don't think you're a terrible reporter," she told him.
Alexander laughed it off but admits, “It makes for a heavy conversation with little kids when you have to explain to your little ones why the president of the United States is yelling at you. That was not something that I had planned out my answers to.”
The pandemic, together with the nationwide protests following the killing of George Floyd, have twined together to amplify an already high-stakes election year.
But for Alexander, who began hosting Today’s Saturday morning edition in 2018, and Welker, who joined him as a co-host in January, this year has been about adjusting and pushing forward.
"There are things that are incredibly challenging about it, and also a number of silver linings," Welker says.
Once states across the U.S. went into weeks- and months-long shutdowns to slow the spread of the virus, cable news networks largely operated out of their anchors’ and reporters’ homes. It was no different for Welker and Alexander at NBC.
The home studio shift had a bit of a learning curve, albeit one that both of them have mostly appreciated.
Welker was delighted to discover husband John Hughes can “run a mean teleprompter,” while Hughes stepped in to help figure out how to run a major network news show from their basement.
“He's just so supportive, and just jumps right in,” she says. “We joke that he'll be joining the union soon, because he knows how to use all of the equipment.”
Hughes is her “producer from home” and Welker says spending that unexpected time with her husband has been “one of the silver linings” of the pandemic.
“It's bringing some families closer together in that way, because you're forced to work together in some cases,” she says.
With two young daughters at home, Alexander and his wife, Alison Starling, have been finding ways to simultaneously parent and report. Starling, who is also a news anchor in Washington, D.C., has a remote studio set up in her office while Alexander has been taping shows from an empty bedroom in their basement.
“And hopefully the house isn't on fire when we come up for air at the end of our shows,” Alexander says, laughing.
He set up a green screen to film his show, but he may need to invest in door locks — especially after one of his daughters burst into the room wearing a neon green shirt and ran across the green screen to ask him a question about the television upstairs.
When she ran up to Alexander, who was sitting in front of the screen, all you could see on camera was a little floating head because of her shirt color. The gaffe makes Alexander laugh now, but it’s also helped him put things into perspective.
“I think one of the blessings right now, if there is anything, [is] as a result of this pandemic we've been forced to stay near home,” he says, “which has allowed for a little bit more family time on the side.”
Welker and Alexander made rare pandemic travel plans to drive to Delaware this week for an unprecedentedly virtual DNC, where they’ll be stationed to provide special reports for NBC’s coverage of the week’s speeches, meetings and events.
The Obamas, the Clintons, Sens. Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and — of course — Joe Biden and Kamala Harris will speak during the week, among a number of other prominent Democratic figures and celebrities.
Biden will officially accept the party’s nomination on Thursday night, while President Trump will accept the Republican Party’s the following week in what he has said will be a White House speech.
The back-to-bak conventions will launch the 2020 election into hyperdrive.
For Alexander and Welker, heading down that final stretch means readjusting and trying to report like normal — in a year that’s been anything but.
“The reporting has to be the same,” Welker says, adding that that, like usual, she and Alexander will need to be open to “letting ourselves observe” what will be different about this year’s DNC.
“That's going to be part of this story this week,” she says.
“Everybody’s watching,” Alexander adds. “The fact that you're in the front row of it is a pretty unique seat.”