By Luke Ramseth
Before the J-Club took off for Washington D.C. our professor Marcy Burstiner gave us some food for thought. She told us if we seriously want to work and live in D.C, we better be willing to live politics, all day every day.
At the time, I thought that pretty self-evident. Of course it’s all about politics. But after spending five days there for the Institute on Political Journalism conference, I know what she means.
As we landed, the Herman Cain scandal was breaking. Everybody was talking about it. It became the focus of much of the conference, as well as our tour of CNN.
If there’s one overarching theme I learned over the weekend, it’s know and embrace politics. Know who’s leading the Republican presidential race in the polls. Get fired up about John Boehner’s latest spending cuts plan. Fire off facts about the Keystone XL pipeline. Compare and contrast the Occupy and Tea Party movements.
Here’s a few other tidbits I picked up, at the conference and while touring D.C.:
-Learn to love social media, especially Twitter. Multiple speakers at the conference talked about Twitter’s usefulness as a personalized news aggregator, a place to find story ideas, promote your own stories and work, and make connections.
-Work on writing well. Everyone we talked to said writing was by far the most important skill they used in their news or media jobs, whether broadcast, radio or print. They said many other skills can be taught on-the-fly, but not good writing.
-“Stack your blog roll,” use Google Reader, and generally consume the news and information. Many presenters talked about the importance of this, to know what their colleagues are doing and provide context for future stories.
-There’s no recipe for success, at least not in political journalism. Lymari Morales from Gallup.com had a master’s in public policy from Harvard before she got her job. Others had advanced J-school degrees from Columbia and Northwestern. One of the top political reporters at CNN we talked to had become a lawyer, only to transition into journalism. Jared Keller, social media manager and an editor at The Atlantic, got his job shortly after completing his undergrad degree. Others, like Kenneth Vogel of Politico (who I found to be one of the most inspiring) had worked his way up in the newspaper industry all over the country before moving to D.C. Vogel said just writing a really solid political blog could land someone a job (and had, at Politico).
-Internships are available for college students, even at the big news outlets. Check out opportunities at CNN, NPR, Washington Post, The Atlantic, The Atlantic Wire, National Journal Hotline and Governing.com.