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Writers at Work: Big Papers, Big Stories, and Big Pressure

Part two of BU in DC: Where J-School Gets Real

There’s no better education than experience itself, particularly when it comes to reporting the news. This week, BU Today takes a look at two College of Communication courses that get students out of the classroom and into the action: the Boston University Massachusetts Statehouse Program and the Boston University Washington D.C., Journalism Program.

It’s a Friday morning in the nation’s capital, and Jordy Yager is latefor work. It’s not his fault. Earlier that morning, Yager (COM’08), athird-semester graduate student in the Boston University Washington,D.C., Journalism Program, and his classmates had gone to the Washingtonheadquarters 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 manyhours as most people with a full-time job. On Mondays, Thursdays, andFridays 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 andundergraduate students a semester-long opportunity to work in thebureaus 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 virtuallyall government branches and agencies and from Congressional hearingsand 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 forvarious New England news outlets, including the Bangor Daily News andCape and Islands Public Radio. The remaining two days are spent workingin 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 developskills and confidence that really prepare them for the real world ofreporting,” 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 journalismschool over Columbia’s,” says Dan Ankeles (COM’08), who is interning atthe public radio business program Marketplace.“Between my internship and my newsroom assignment, I’m covering thingsthat 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 Timestypically earn at least 10 bylines during their time with the program.“They are the equivalent of staff reporters, and they’re judged by thesame 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 onCapitol Hill. His most difficult — and most rewarding — assignment todate was a storyabout an agreement by Chiquita Brands International to pay a $25million fine for “protection” payments made to a Colombian paramilitarygroup that had been designated a terrorist organization by the U.S.government. “It was a hard story to write simply because there was somuch background information that I didn’t know,” Yager says.

He is currently working with investigative reporter Alan Miller, who in2003 won a Pulitzer Prize for his series on Harrier jet crashes.“Unfortunately, I can’t say what we’re researching,” Yager says. “But Ican say that I really like this type of work. It’s nice to be able totake a lot of time to thoroughly research a story. One thing I’velearned through working here is that even though we work on a dailydeadline, it’s okay to make those last two phone calls if it improvesyour 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 haveto weed through lots of information, and sometimes what I uncover turnsinto 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 researchstories,” he says. “But ultimately we expect them to propose and writetheir 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 BayTransportation Authority’s Green Line extension to Somerville. “It’sjust a kernel of a story,” she says, “and I don’t want to say too muchabout 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 verygood experience working with BU,” says Canellos. “We’re happy to helpin the educational process of creating the next generation ofjournalists.”

The Washington, D.C., Journalism Program is a joint effort betweenthe Boston University Division of International Programs and theCollege of Communication department of journalism.

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

This story originally ran October 11, 2007. 

Click here to read part one, "Writers at Work: From College Student to Washington Correspondent."