The Ann Devroy Memorial Fellowship is given each year to a journalism student that shows tremendous promise. Rachel Minske was awarded the fellowship in 2013 and spent three weeks at The Washington Post as a result. Here is part of what she took away from the experience.
I sat in the lobby of The Washington Post waiting to meet someone I’d admired since day one of my college career. With my back leaning against the window panes, I took several deep breaths and scanned the faces of everyone in the room, searching for my 2 p.m. appointment. I was about to meet Dan Balz, not only a political correspondent for The Post, but also a friend of the late Ann Devroy.
Bursting through the lobby doors, Dan waved to the security guards before approaching me. He flashed me a kind smile and we shook hands. He led me across the street to a gorgeous coffee shop adorned with white tablecloths, checkered tiles and a wait staff dressed to the nines. I was ecstatic that a prestigious reporter such as Dan took the time to meet with a college student eager for career advice.
We spent time talking about the reason I was in Washington D.C. in the first place: Ann Devroy. A 1970 journalism graduate from the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire, Ann led a prestigious career as a reporter. Working her way through the ranks of Gannett News Service, USA Today and eventually The Washington Post, Ann left a legacy of tenacity and diligence in her wake following her death in 1997. Dan and Ann worked closely with one another while covering the White House beat for The Post. It was neat to hear Dan reminisce about the fair, yet fierce competitor that Ann was. Only a handful of Ann’s colleagues still work at the paper and it was a treat to hear first-hand accounts of her career.
We also discussed my career dreams and aspirations. Dan offered me an insightful piece of advice during our meeting: to continuously strive to challenge yourself. To never get too comfortable in a newsroom. Once you feel you have your bearings, move on to the next big story, the next city, the next market. I have carried that piece of advice with me everyday since and I encourage my peers to do the same. We can only grow as journalists and humans when we are thrown outside our comfort zone. So ask the tough question, take the big risk and work harder than you ever thought possible. Not only will your readers be fulfilled, but you will lead a more rewarding career, too.
I spent a week working for PostTV, the video production department of the newspaper, a few days working for the interactivity desk and three days working on the digital production desk. I had the opportunity to meet dozens of interesting people along the way. By the time I left Washington, my notebook was completely filled with a broad spectrum of software-specific hints and career development advice I’d picked up along the way. I met reporters who had just returned from an assignment in Africa, producers with backgrounds at CNN, NBC, ABC, and so on. One day I was a member of the paparazzi scrambling to get footage of R&B singer Chris Brown outside a Washington D.C. courthouse. Another day I was participating in a studio interview with Will Tracy, editor of The Onion. The next day I sat in a meeting with Snapchat experts (yes the phone app) to discuss how news organizations can effectively interact with readers through photos that appear for just seconds on a mobile device. Every day was an adventure.
I was constantly surrounded by incredibly talented and brilliant people. I couldn’t help but think, “What do all of these people have in common? How do I someday have a career like theirs?”
Tracy Grant, a senior editor at The Post and my fellowship coordinator put it very nicely on my first day at the newspaper.
“Everyone who works here was at one point the smartest person in the room,” she said. “Whether it was in a college classroom or at another job, they were the smartest person in the room. It takes a special kind of person to flourish in this newsroom.”
From that point forward, I made it my goal to be that “special kind of person.” I left the fellowship feeling more energized, inspired, and irrevocably in love with the news industry than ever before.
On the plane ride back home, I promised to never allow myself to get comfortable, to take risks, to ask the tough questions and to surround myself with people who challenge and motivate me. I challenge my peers to do the same. We are capable of more than we think and more intelligent than we let ourselves believe.
Etched into one of the walls of The Newseum, Washington, D.C.’s massive media museum, is a quote from journalist H.L. Mencken. It says this: “I know of no human being who has a better time than an eager and energetic young reporter.” I know I speak on behalf of journalists across the globe when I say there is no field more rewarding than the news industry. I am so, so grateful for the opportunity to have learned more of Ann Devroy’s legacy and work alongside some of the best in the field. Thank you to everyone who made this experience possible.
Rachel Minske, Journalism student