An exclusive look at POLITICO from the eyes of a hungry, young journalist

Marianna Sotomayer at the POLITICO Journalism Institute
By: Marianna Sotomayor, Political Communication Major '15
August 18, 2014

The “POLITICO way” goes a little something like this: brainstorm a great idea, team up with the most influential people in the business, and somewhere along the line, create a lasting impact that fosters reputable talent. That’s the mentality that drove the business into existence in 2007. It is also the same drive that created the POLITICO Journalism Institute (PJI) seven years later with the help of the Maynard Institute for Journalism and the American University.

It was just a few months ago that top POLITICO executives had an innovative idea to bring together young aspiring journalists in hopes of molding them into the next generation of Beltway reporters. To this day I’m amazed that I was one of the lucky dozen who was plucked from a group of 200 applicants to attend the inaugural program. 

For 10 days in August, reporters, editors, and executives from POLITICO and other news bureaus shared their wisdom on how to cover Washington beats. One-on-ones with reporters gave me an exclusive list of tips on how to develop sources, become a policy expert, and even write a perfect, attention-grabbing headline. One meeting plunged us into a powerful conversation about the need for reporters on the diversity beat, while another taught us that an immoral decision could, in fact, be the most ethical for a journalist.

The Institute not only gave us a front row seat to Washington reporters, but also the opportunity to publish an article for a special print edition and online section.

The assignment? Take a broad topic and find an angle that answers whether Congress has or hasn’t tackled digital privacy for the millennial generation, and do so by deadline.

Working with a fellow PJI student, we decided to report on student data privacy in higher education. We spent all afternoon calling sources to not only brief us on the topic, but also feed us valuable quotes. Coffee became our best friend as we wrote and researched throughout the night, adding as much context to the story as possible.

It wasn’t the first time I felt like a real reporter, but it was my first time experiencing the “POLITICO way” of story production. Seeing how the print edition came together piece by piece made me realize that quality journalism can be produced everyday, and in a timely manner.

Of all the valuable wisdom I gained, there are two tips that have resonated with me moving forward. The first is to create a “brand” for myself that markets my skills as a necessary value to the newsroom. The second, and the most profound, came from POLITICO’s CEO and co-founder Jim VandeHei.

“Be hungry to learn,” he said. “You have to train yourself to soak up what others are doing better than you and doing worse.”

He may not have realized it, but his words of wisdom reinvigorated me for my career as a political reporter. I stay hungry, persistent, and self-motivated so that one day I can find myself back at POLITICO.