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Writers at Work: Very Ready for Prime Time

Part three of BU in D.C.: 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.

Far below Megan Hawkins’ Manhattan office, the taillights of cars are not moving. It’s 8 p.m., late for this kind of gridlock, but not late for Hawkins (COM’06) to be at her desk at Fox News. So far today, the segment producer for one of the nation’s largest news network channels has logged in more than 13 hours, but she has no complaints. “It’s okay,” she says. “I absolutely love what I do.”

At 26, Hawkins is poised, palpably ambitious, and an important player in the launch of Fox Business Channel. Slated to air October 15 in about 34 million homes, the channel is intended to rival NBC’s Consumer News and Business Channel (CNBC), which covers business headlines and provides live coverage of financial markets. Hawkins is a live producer for guest segments of the prime-time program Happy Hour, which will air weeknights from 5 to 6 p.m.

It’s rare for someone as young as Hawkins to be a live producer of prime time television, but she had a good thing going for her. As a COM journalism graduate student, she attended the Boston University Washington, D.C., Journalism Program and covered Capitol Hill for a television station in Elmira, N.Y.

“Working in Washington prepared me for the practical, real world of journalism,” she says. “Before I even graduated, I was covering the federal government, so I didn’t have to start out at, say, News 14, Milwaukee, or Channel 6, Florida. I could start in the highest market there is.”

Hawkins’ first job after college was production assistant for CNN’s American Morning. Within seven months, she says, she had a better offer from Fox. “I’ve only ever been on two job interviews, because I’ve gotten hired at both networks I’ve applied to,” she says. “And on each interview, the Washington program was a major selling point. I don’t have any doubt that it helped lead me to where I am now.”

Founded in 2000 by director Linda Killian (CAS’80, COM’80), the Washington, D.C., Journalism Program has nearly 130 alumni in more than 25 states and several foreign countries. “We have a wonderful network of alums who are helping one another,” says Killian, a former editor at NPR’s All Things Considered. “Alums who came through the program early on now have the experience and the influence to recommend — and even hire — new graduates.”

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 program — and is designed to give students the kind of experience, clips, and contacts that can help launch their careers. Alumni find jobs at news organizations throughout the country, including the Wall Street Journal, the Christian Science Monitor, and ABC.

The Washington program helped Meredith Warren (COM’01) land her first job, at the Eagle-Tribune, a newspaper in Lawrence, Mass., where she would be part of team that won a Pulitzer Prize for Breaking News Coverage in 2003. Warren had been a correspondent for the Eagle-Tribune while she was a student in the Washington program, and the editors brought her aboard when she graduated. The prizewinning story, about the accidental deaths of four boys who fell through the ice on the Merrimack River, was published when Warren was only 23.

“My assignment was to talk to the family of the first child who died,” she says. “It was the first time I had to knock on a victim’s door. It was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done.”

Warren left the Eagle-Tribune in 2004, and she now works as communications director for Massachusetts House Minority Leader Bradley H. Jones, Jr.

Many program alumni choose to stay in Washington after they graduate. More than 20 alums currently work at news outlets in the capital, including the Chronicle of Higher Education, the Federal Times, and the Washington bureau of the Associated Press, and many others return to the Washington, D.C., Journalism Program as guest speakers and mentors.

“I strongly feel that the program gave me the opportunity to have a home base in this city,” says Nitya Venkataraman (COM’05), a digital news producer at the ABC News Washington bureau. “Paying it forward is very important to me, and I’m happy to help other journalism students find work.”

In fact, Venkataraman was instrumental in Nightline’s decision to hire Eric Johnson (COM’06) as a production coordinator. “I met Nitya during a meet-and-greet luncheon at the Washington program,” says Johnson. “I always joke that she sensed my desperation for a job, so she recommended me to the folks at Nightline.”

The willingness of alums to stay involved and to help students is definitely a selling point for the Washington program, Killian says. “Reporting from Capitol Hill is, of course, a wonderful opportunity that not many students get to have,” she says. “But even so, sometimes finding a job after graduation can be difficult, and an extensive alumni network further increases our students’ opportunities.”

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.

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

This article originally ran October 12, 2007.

Click here to read part one, "Writers at Work: From College Student to Washington Correspondent." Click here to read part two, "Writers at Work: Big Papers, Big Stories, and Big Pressure."