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BU in D.C.: Where J-School Gets Real

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It’s a Friday morning in the nation’s capital, and Jordy Yager is late for work. It’s not his fault. Earlier that morning, Yager (COM’08), a third-semester graduate student in the Boston University Washington, D.C., Journalism Program, and his classmates had gone to the Washington headquarters of National Public Radio, where they met Robert Siegel, the host of All Things Considered, and the discussion ran longer than expected. Now he is dashing to catch the Metro to his internship at the Los Angeles Times.

“Luckily, Friday is typically a slow news day,” Yager says. “It makes up for the craziness that happens the rest of the week.”

As a Washington, D.C., Journalism Program student, Yager works as many hours as most people with a full-time job. On Mondays, Thursdays, and Fridays he pounds out copy for the Los Angeles Times, and on Tuesdays and Wednesdays he chases stories on Capitol Hill for the Union Leader, a newspaper in Manchester, N.H. “Working for two papers can be really stressful,” he says.

Founded in 2000 by director Linda Killian (CAS’80, COM’80), a former editor at NPR’s All Things Considered, the Washington, D.C., Journalism Program offers graduate and undergraduate students a semester-long opportunity to work in the bureaus of national news organizations such as ABC, NBC, the Boston Globe, and NPR, as well as New England news outlets like the Cape Cod Times, the Worcester Telegram and Gazette, and Connecticut Public Radio. The students cover events at virtually all government branches and agencies and from Congressional hearings and news conferences to election campaigns.

The program is broken into three parts: a political reporting class, a newsroom assignment, and an internship. For the newsroom assignment, students work three days a week as Washington correspondents for various New England news outlets, including the Bangor Daily News and Cape and Islands Public Radio. The remaining two days are spent working in the Washington bureaus of national news organizations, such as American Prospect, Gannett News Service, and USA Today.

“By interning for such high-profile news agencies, students develop skills and confidence that really prepare them for the real world of reporting,” says Killian, author of 1998’s The Freshmen: What Happened to the Republican Revolution? “And having places like the Boston Globe and ABC on their résumés really sets them apart from other candidates when they’re applying for jobs."

“This program is the reason why I chose to attend BU’s journalism school over Columbia’s,” says Dan Ankeles (COM’08), who is interning at the public radio business program Marketplace. “Between my internship and my newsroom assignment, I’m covering things that most professional journalists have to wait for years to cover.”

Although they are working at one of the largest newspapers in the country, interns at the Los Angeles Times typically earn at least 10 bylines during their time with the program. “They are the equivalent of staff reporters, and they’re judged by the same standards,” says Leslie Hoffecker, night news editor of the Los Angeles Times. “This is no fetch-coffee-for-the-columnists internship by any means.”

Indeed, by his second week of work, Yager was covering stories on Capitol Hill. His most difficult — and most rewarding — assignment to date was a story about an agreement by Chiquita Brands International to pay a $25 million fine for “protection” payments made to a Colombian paramilitary group that had been designated a terrorist organization by the U.S. government. “It was a hard story to write simply because there was so much background information that I didn’t know,” Yager says.

He is currently working with investigative reporter Alan Miller, who in 2003 won a Pulitzer Prize for his series on Harrier jet crashes. “Unfortunately, I can’t say what we’re researching,” Yager says. “But I can say that I really like this type of work. It’s nice to be able to take a lot of time to thoroughly research a story. One thing I’ve learned through working here is that even though we work on a daily deadline, it’s okay to make those last two phone calls if it improves your story.”

Audrey Marks (COM’08) is also researching stories for a major daily newspaper. Marks has a paid internship with the Boston Globe, where she works directly for Washington bureau chief Peter Canellos. “It’s a lot more time-consuming than you’d expect,” she says. “I have to weed through lots of information, and sometimes what I uncover turns into a story idea, and sometimes it doesn’t.”

Canellos, whose paper has worked with the program for four semesters, says he hopes Marks will have some bylines before her internship ends. “Students typically start out by helping our reporters research stories,” he says. “But ultimately we expect them to propose and write their own articles.”

Marks, in fact, has a few ideas that she’s almost ready to pitch. One of them concerns the federal funding for the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority’s Green Line extension to Somerville. “It’s just a kernel of a story,” she says, “and I don’t want to say too much about it just yet. We’ll see if it actually turns into anything.”

When she does pitch it, her editor will listen. “We’ve had a very good experience working with BU,” says Canellos. “We’re happy to help in the educational process of creating the next generation of journalists.”

The Washington, D.C., Journalism Program is a joint effort between the Boston University Division of International Programs and the College of Communication department of journalism. The application deadline for spring semester is Monday, October 15, 2007. Click here for more information.

Check back on Friday, October 12, 2007, to learn about Boston University Washington, D.C., Journalism Program alumni. To read “Part one: From college student to Washington correspondent,” click here.

Vicky Waltz can be reached at vwaltz@bu.edu.

 

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