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Missouri School of Journalism

The J-School Magazine

June 2012

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Four J-School Alumni Share Their Experiences Covering the 2012 Presidential Campaign

Major Garrett, BJ '84, (lower right) co-moderates the first Republican presidential primary debate on broadcast television with CBS Evening News anchor Scott Pelley (lower right, on left) in November 2011 in Spartanburg, S.C. The debate included (top row, from left) Jon Huntsman, Michele Bachmann, Ron Paul, Herman Cain, Mitt Romney, Newt Gingrich, Rick Perry and Rick Santorum. Photo courtesy of The National Journal.

From Interviewing to Traveling, These Journalists Know What It Takes to Excel as Political Reporters

By Paula Pritzen
Strategic Communication Student

For Juana Summers, Major Garrett and Emily and Dave Price, the path of being a political journalist covering the 2012 presidential race is a hectic, yet exciting one, filled with twists, turns and surprise endings. It was a journey that all began at the Missouri School of Journalism.

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Juana Summers, BJ '09: POLITICO Journalist on the 2012 Presidential Campaign Trail

It's 5 a.m., and Summers sips her black coffee as she prepares for her day. Yesterday, she was in three different states - Colorado, Missouri and Minnesota. Tomorrow, she will be traveling to Oklahoma and Texas. As a national reporter for POLITICO, this is just a typical morning on the 2012 presidential campaign trail. Sometimes, she says, it's hard for her to believe that just three years ago, she was finishing up classes at the Missouri School of Journalism.

As a student, Summers was assigned to cover the Missouri senate race between Republican Jim Talent and Democrat Claire McCaskill for The Maneater. From there, she says, "I caught the political journalism bug."

Summers enrolled in the school's State Government Reporting Program in Jefferson City and filed stories on state politics for KBIA-FM and the Missourian.

But she still managed to take advantage of other opportunities. She was a Chips Quinn Scholar, and served as a panelist at an Associated Collegiate Press event. She balanced these activities with honors-level courses, student government and Alpha Chi Omega sorority.

"You only get to do undergrad once, so I wanted to do everything that I possibly could," she says. "If that means sometimes running from the Missourian across town to my sorority house then driving to await a hearing at the Capitol, that's what I did."

Summers sought to expand her reporting skills and political knowledge beyond the J-School's news media outlets through a variety of outside internships at KC Hispanic News, The New York Times Journalism Institute, and the Austin American-Statesman. Her intern tasks at these news outlets varied from covering Missouri's House of Representatives to analyzing the role of Hurricane Katrina in the 2008 presidential campaign.

"My professors were incredibly supportive about giving me the resources and the opportunities I needed to translate into the job I wanted," Summers says.

Following graduation in 2009, Summers interned at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch before joining KCFreePress as a political reporter. After a brief stint at The Kansas City Star, Summers started her job as a reporter at POLITICO in November of 2010.

Juana Summers, BJ '09
Juana Summers, BJ '09, prepares to report for the POLITICO 2012 LIVE blog. Image courtesy of POLITICO LIVE, Politico's election night livestream.

"POLITICO is certainly a place where you walk in the door and you are full speed ahead," she says. "It's is one of the great things about it, but it also makes it challenging to come in as a new person and a young reporter."

POLITICO distributes its content through television, the Internet, newspaper and radio. It primarily covers political happenings in Washington D.C., including the presidency, Congress and elections.

Summers is specifically assigned to cover GOP candidates and is covering the Romney campaign and the vice presidential selection process.

Her job includes extensive cross-country travel with candidates and interacting with fellow reporters from national news outlets. Summers has had to learn how to be flexible, manage her time and run on little-to-no sleep since joining POLITICO.

When Summers was covering Rick Santorum earlier this year, her day started at 5 a.m. in Minneapolis and finished at midnight in Denver. Typical trips may include carpooling with reporters from other news organizations and writing her story while driving through areas with no Wi-Fi.

Juana Summers, BJ '09
Juana Summers, BJ '09, covers the candidates running for the Republican presidential nomination. Photo courtesy of Juana Summers.

Another assignment had Summers following Herman Cain. She says that watching the former talk radio host transition into a front-runner for the Republicans during that time was very interesting.

Summers says she is just excited to be covering what has been a "very volatile, very interesting race." And she has learned that there is no benefit to making predictions about the outcome of the presidential election.

Major Garrett, BJ '84: Congressional Correspondent with the National Journal Covering the White House Beat

Major Garrett's career has included interviews with sitting presidents, forming relationships with well-known politicians and traveling around the world.

"I was very lucky," Garrett says. "From about the age of 13, I knew that I wanted to be a reporter in Washington. That was a great advantage. I just knew that is what I wanted to do."

Garrett began his studies at the J-School in broadcast news but quickly realized that he didn't like just about everything about television - the equipment, the editing process, the way that subjects reacted to the cameras and more.

His switch to news editorial, however, was rocky. Garrett struggled in the newsroom because he was not used to the pace and style required to write for print.

Garrett credits his eventual success to Hal Lister, who taught the introductory news writing course. He allowed Garrett to do extra credit work so he could continue his print journalism studies.

"Professor Lister looked into my eye and saw something worth taking a chance for," Garrett says. "I have been indebted ever since."

After graduation, Garrett worked for several news organizations including the Amarillo Globe-News, the Las Vegas Review Journal and the Houston Post. In 1990, he landed a job as congressional reporter for The Washington Times and then went on to become senior editor and congressional correspondent for U.S. News & World Report.

Garrett then joined CNN as a White House correspondent and eventually moved on to Fox News where he worked his way up to become chief White House correspondent in 2009. He has forged relationships with politicians along the way, which has given him a real advantage in the world of political journalism.

Some of his most high-profile assignments include covering the 2004 presidential election, the War on Terror and the 2008 presidential election. In 2010, Garrett interviewed former President Clinton about his heath condition. He has also interviewed Senior White House adviser David Axelrod.

His most notable interview was with President Obama in November of 2009. The sit-down interview in Beijing was pivotal in improving relations between Fox News and the Obama administration. The interview was the first one that President Obama had agreed to do with Fox News since July earlier that year.

Garrett wanted to expand on the role of politics in America beyond his news reports, so he authored three books in between reporting on major political events and interviewing significant politicians.

In September 2010, Garrett accepted a position as congressional correspondent for the National Journal, a news magazine that focuses on the current political climate. He recently was assigned to the White House beat.

Major Garrett, BJ '84
Major Garrett, BJ '84. Photo courtesy of The National Journal.

On a typical day, Garrett juggles several assignments. He writes a weekly column for the National Journal, "2012 Decoded," which offers insight on the presidential election and covering the White House beat. He also prepares his three kids' lunches and gets them off to school.

In November 2011, Garrett co-moderated the first Republican network broadcasted debate of the 2012 presidential campaign season with Scott Pelley of CBS News. The debate focused on foreign policy and national security and it was the first time that Garrett has ever moderated a debate.

Garrett says that the process was very enjoyable, but he felt a tremendous responsibility because many people were going to be watching, not only in the United States, but all over the world.

The week previous to the debate was spent in New York and devoted to collaboration with the CBS News editorial team, which included Scott Pelley and a variety of researchers, producers and writers. Together, they researched and worked on debate and question preparation.

"I probably have never worked harder on anything in my life as a journalist than I did for that debate." Garrett says. "It's not just knowing the issues and the relevant questions, you have to know everything about each candidate's positions and what they have said in the past."

Because of this experience moderating a debate, Garrett was sent down to Tampa in January 2012 to help prepare for the first Republican Florida debate, which was sponsored by National Journal, along with NBC News and the Tampa Bay Times.

Currently, Garrett is assigned to the White House and comes in and out of the Republican campaign as requested. He says that it is a big challenge to cover the White House because National Journal has policy experts that are reporting on the issues and subjects surrounding the presidency. However, since the White House is now focusing on President Obama's re-election, Garrett spends a lot of time evaluating the campaign.

Garrett says that being a political journalist carries a heavy responsibility to serve the audience that has come to trust him. He says he has a "front row seat to history" and enjoys having the privilege of conveying that history to the public.

Garrett credits his professors with teaching him the basics necessary to excel in the world of political journalism and values every experience that he has had at the school.

He says that current students at the J-School should take advantage of the opportunities they have, "make sure what is written today is believable two or three months from now and build, maintain and respect institutional knowledge."

Dave, MA '99, and Emily Price, BJ '01: Broadcast Political Reporters in Iowa

Dave and Emily Price, of Des Moines, Iowa, have more than a few things in common: They studied broadcast news, are Missouri School of Journalism alumni, are married to each other and are political journalists. The one thing that separates them is the fact that they work for competing stations in Des Moines. This makes for interesting dinner conversations at the Price household.

Emily is the weekend evening anchor at KCCI-TV in Des Moines, and Dave is WHO-TV's political expert and the weekend evening anchor.

Competition is a daily activity for them at their respective stations and they must remain neutral in deciphering political happenings. But, Emily and Dave work as a team when it comes to their family life.

Emily and Dave Price
Emily, BJ '01, and Dave Price, MA '99 pose with their son, Hayden. Photo courtesy of Emily Price.

Still, the lines blur on occasion and politics finds a way into their personal lives. Before their marriage in 2007, Dave and Emily received honeymoon advice from Barack and Michelle Obama.

Because the Democratic party already has its nominee for president, Dave focuses his coverage on the 2012 Republican presidential candidates. A typical day includes interviewing and reporting on any visiting candidates - such as Rick Santorum, Mitt Romney and Ron Paul - and making sure every candidate's storyline is researched thoroughly by he and his colleagues.

Of the candidates that Dave covered, he was impressed by Santorum's "old school" way of traveling to many of Iowa's 99 counties during the caucuses. Dave credits Santorum's win in Iowa with this campaign strategy.

Dave started his career in radio at KMOX-AM in St. Louis but transitioned to TV broadcast after completing his master's degree at the Missouri School of Journalism in 1999.

While in graduate school, Dave covered events at the state capital in Jefferson City. He had the opportunity to cover John Ashcroft, former Missouri governor and senator, when he ran for president. He also reported on Missouri politics for KOMU-TV and credits news director Stacey Woelfel's "good political mind" for helping cultivate his political interests.

Rick Perry and Dave Price
Dave Price, MA '99 interviews Rick Perry in Perry, Iowa in December 2011. Photo courtesy of Emily Price.
Dave Price
Dave Price, MA '99 explains his take on the Iowa caucuses during a segment on Fox News' Special Report with Bret Baier at the Iowa Statehouse on January 2, 2012. Photo courtesy of Emily Price.
Emily Price, BJ '01
Emily Price, BJ '01 reports for KCCI at Newt Gingrich’s Iowa caucus night party at the Iowa Events Center in Des Moines on January 3, 2012. Photo courtesy of Emily Price.

For completion of his master's project, Dave had to cover the Democratic and Republican National Conventions. He traveled to the location of the conventions and says he has never felt so nervous or out of place standing shoulder to shoulder with many other NBC affiliates because he was just a master's student in a mix of seasoned professionals.

"It was a very intimidating thing." Dave says. "I'm sure if I went back and watched those stories now I would be horrified."

Dave worked as a morning anchor and assignment manager at KOMU-TV for three years after graduation. It was during an on-air segment that Emily first caught a glimpse of Dave. However, the two didn't meet face-to-face until both were working in Iowa years later.

While Dave was finishing his master's degree, Emily had just started her undergraduate studies at the Missouri School of Journalism. After studying broadcast for several semesters at the J-School, Emily became the Sunday night anchor at KOMU-TV.

As a student, she also had the opportunity to report live from NBC's Washington Bureau during the inauguration parade for George W. Bush. The Mizzou Marching Band was playing during the parade so Emily and another J-School student drove the KOMU station wagon to Washington D.C., shared a cheap hotel room and covered many stories from current politics to the parade itself.

Upon graduation in 2001, Emily started her career at KCCI as a general assignment reporter, and five years later she become the weekend evening anchor. As a reporter, she covers state politics, features and spot news stories. Emily has also had the opportunity to be involved in the station's coverage of national politics. She traveled to New Hampshire after the Iowa caucus to continue coverage of the Republican primaries.

She also traveled to Washington D.C. to cover local politics from a national angle. She interviewed First Lady Michelle Obama's chief of staff, Jackie Norris, inside the East Wing of the White House. Emily learned that about 25 percent of the First Lady's staff have roots in Iowa, either through political connections or because they are native Iowans. Being able to marry Iowa politics with national politics made for a great story.

Rick Santorum and Emily Price
Emily Price, BJ '01 stands with Rick Santorum after completing a series for KCCI-TV where Santorum tried to persuade undecided voters to vote for him. Photo courtesy of Emily Price.

Emily says writing stories like this one and others is rewarding but isn't without its challenges. One of the most challenging parts of her job, she says, is the politics. She checks and double-checks every fact and interviews only trusted sources. But identifying the truth in such an environment is difficult. Emily's credibility with her viewers rests on her ability to do accurate reporting, a skill that she learned at the Missouri School of Journalism.

Both she and her husband are very appreciative of the professors at the J-School and are thankful for how much the practical experience has helped prepare them for their careers today.

"The longer that I am away from Mizzou, the more I appreciate what the program was," Dave says. "I really think that in the big picture, the J-School puts their students two years ahead and on a totally different level than other students."

Paula Pritzen Paula Pritzen is pursuing her master's degree in strategic communication at the Missouri School of Journalism. She graduated from Clemson University in 2010 with a Bachelor of Arts degree in communications. From Spring, Texas, she currently serves as a teaching assistant for a public relations course. Pritzen completed a marketing internship with the University of Missouri Athletic Department after playing for the MU women's soccer team, and has an interest in sports public relations and marketing.

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Revised: June 1, 2012. Copyright © 2012 The Curators of the University of Missouri  |  Contact the J-School