Diary of a D.C. Fellow
This week’s blog is contributed by USF in DC Fellow, Julian Sorapuru. This semester, Julian is interning at POLITICO in Washington D.C. as a part of its policy reporting team. Read about his experience as a new reporter learning the ropes and thriving on the Hill.
The first day I arrived at Capitol Hill, I got a short tour of the building and all its intricacies. A fellow POLITICO reporter showed me the underground subway tunnels, numerous ornate conference rooms and the press galleries that bustle with reporters from many publications. The tour lasted all of about 30 minutes before my colleague had to jet off on a short assignment and then the hand-holding was over. I was left on my own, thrown straight into the fire.
That day, I was tasked with getting quotes from lawmakers whom I had never heard of about a multitude of transportation topics I had never even considered. As I stood outside the Senate chamber, I was nervous and unsure of my ability to complete the task. I didn’t know what every member of Congress looked like, especially while wearing masks. I was terrified of confusing one member with another and the embarrassment that would ensue. I was afraid of asking a question they deemed irrelevant or of messing up the facts. That first day, I think I only succeeded in talking to one lawmaker out of the twenty or so who were on my “potential gets” list.
But after the work day, my editor informed me that my low success rate was completely ok and not out of the ordinary. I went back the next day and talked with more members, then the next day even more, and on and on. I started to gain confidence and felt that I was in my element. It wasn’t until I had a conversation with a friend in DC who wasn’t working in the political sphere that I realized just how much knowledge on the inner-workings of Congress I had amassed.
I became more self-assured and confident. I started making the split-second movements to approach members for quotes in a confident manner and producing stories I was proud of. I’ve learned how to walk backwards, up steps, and sideways in order to keep my recorder trained on lawmakers’ mouths while simultaneously jockeying for position in scrums with 20 other reporters all trying to have their voices heard. These are very specific skills I never considered of until coming to Capitol Hill. Being a Hill reporter is an experience like no other.
Speaking of unique experiences, I’ve come face to face with Nancy Pelosi, AOC, Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, to name a few, while on the job with POLITICO. What I’ve learned is they’re all just people, not these larger-than-life figures we see on tv. I meet them in their workplace and invade their personal space, so I always try to remain respectful of boundaries.
My USF in DC experience has been truly amazing so far. Just 6 months ago I was Editor-in-Chief of the Foghorn, now I’m working full time as a Capitol Hill reporter. I’ve learned so much about power in Congress (who has it and how they use it) and journalism’s role in monitoring that dynamic throughout my two months at POLITICO. I wake up every day knowing I’m going into the place where it all happens legislatively in the United States and the privilege of that is not lost on me.