WASHINGTON – Philip Elliott graduated from Ohio University in 2003 and reported on the first 15 months of the Obama administration as a White House correspondent for the Associated Press. He continues to work for the AP as a national politics reporter.
Megan Sowder-Staley always knew she wanted to live in Washington and moved here with her now-husband after she graduated from Miami University in 2006. She found a job with Congressional Quarterly through networking and is the editor of the publication’s online BillTrack service.
Malena Caruso started her college experience as a pharmacy student at the University of Kentucky. After realizing her passion for sports and broadcast reporting,she transferred to Kent State University,graduated in May with a journalism degree and found a temporary position with the ABC News Washington bureau.
Elliott,Sowder-Staley and Caruso came to Washington eager to report on the very place where national news happens. They say they love their D.C. lives and encourage other journalism students to follow in their footsteps.
However,becoming a reporter in Washington is not easy and requires more than the average set of journalistic skills. Elliott,Sowder-Staley and Caruso each had worked for student media and obtained professional internships,which has enabled them to compete with and report on the bright minds of the nation’s capital.
“This is a town full of people who are very committed to what they believe is making the world a better place. Most people I meet in this town are here because they want to make a difference,” Elliott said.
Before coming to Washington,Elliott,29,worked as an education reporter for the Marietta Times and a religion reporter for the Evansville (Ind.) Courier & Press. He took a temporary job with the AP in March 2006 and reported on the New Hampshire primary campaign for a year,following then-Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton.
Throughout that time and during his college career,however,he said he was rejected from at least 100 newspapers across the country. He keeps a stack of rejection letters to remind him of the frustrating times he had trying to find work as a journalism graduate.
According to the American Society of News Editors,daily newspapers across the county lost 13,500 jobs since 2007. Editor & Publisher Magazine produced an article last January about how many Washington bureaus have closed,offered buyouts or decreased in size to adjust to financial setbacks. Cox Media and Block Newspapers have both closed,while the Scripps News Service and the Gannett News Service have reduced the number of Washington reporters to nearly two-thirds of what they used to be since 2007.
Faced with job search challenges when she left Ohio,Sowder-Staley,27,said she knew there were still exceptional opportunities in Washington that were not offered anywhere else,especially the Midwest. She had visited the area many times and interned with a Washington political publication as a college student. The unique prospects combined with the idea of collaborating with national decision-makers convinced her to move to Washington.
“I love being right here in the middle of everything. It’s nice to be involved and on top of everything that is happening in the world,” Sowder-Staley said.
When she moved,she took a job as a media consultant for a year but was able to use the connections she made as an intern to land a job as a CQ reporter. She is now the editor of CQ’s online BillTrack service,which updates subscribers about the legislative actions on Capitol Hill.
Sowder-Staley attributed Washington’s opportunities to an increased awareness of American politics matched with quicker and easier access to information.
“I think there is a new interest that didn’t really exist before in national news,” she said. “With the rise of Internet and new media,people are really more focused on what is happening in Washington.”
Caruso,22,first studied pharmacy at UK until she transferred to Kent State in 2008 and switched to journalism. She came to Washington in January as an intern with ABC News,which was organized by KSU’s Washington Program in National Issues. She said the program immersed her in the area and included tours of the CIA,Pentagon,West Wing and State Department. Caruso accepted a fellowship following her internship that allowed her to continue working as a temp with ABC News. The fellowship was granted by KSU alumnus William Oliver,who is the senior vice president of public affairs for AT&T. Caruso said Oliver is influential in maintaining the WPNI program.
“There’s no real typical day,and that’s what I love about it,” Caruso said.
Because ABC owns 10 broadcast stations around the country in different time zones,Caruso said it is common to work unplanned 12 hour days. Although her job is demanding,Caruso said her experience and work ethic have contributed to her success.
“If you love it,it won’t be work,” she said. “Slackers don’t come to D.C.”
Caruso said she is busy planning her next adventure in Washington,which has not been an easy task. She has researched positions at NBC Universal,ESPN and the Redskins Broadcast Network,but she doesn’t have an offer yet. She said she is adamant about staying in Washington.
Jack Torry,58,a self-proclaimed industry “dinosaur,” has a different story to tell about his job as a Washington reporter.
He graduated with a journalism degree from Ohio State University in 1975. He has witnessed and participated in many changes as the industry has adapted to technology and economic transformations.
Since 2000,he’s been a political affairs reporter for the Columbus Dispatch,and he started contributing to the Dayton Daily News this year as a weekly columnist about Washington issues.
Torry said the equipment he first used as a reporter was a manual typewriter and telecopier that took seven minutes per page to scan. Although the technology and practice of the journalism profession have drastically changed since his career began,Torry said humans’ innate desire for information remains constant.
“It doesn’t matter what area you’re in. People depend on accurate news. They can’t survive without it,” he said.
However,Torry said the current job market is just as “hideous” as it was during his search after graduating from OSU. He delivered pizzas until he found a reporting job for the Columbus Citizen-Journal. The publication folded in 1985,and he found a job as a reporter for the Toledo Blade Washington bureau a few months later. In 1988,the Blade transferred Torry to its Washington bureau,which closed several years ago.