March 5, 2014

Warning: Political Journalism Not for the Faint of Heart

By: Francesca Chambers

If you’re looking for a 9 – 5 job, working as a journalist or an editor at a political publication is not for you. Political scandals, candidate events and Congressional kerfuffles over predictable catastrophes supersede traditional working (and waking) hours. I often tell young journalists that if they don’t enjoy eating, breathing and sleeping politics, they’re barking up the wrong tree.

I remember the first time I visited my now-in law’s home. It was Christmas Day, and my beat of sorts at the time was covering Newt Gingrich’s presidential campaign for The Washington Examiner’s “Beltway Confidential” blog while I waited for Red Alert Politics, a sister publication of The Examiner, to launch. I’d stayed up the entire night of Dec. 23 waiting to see if Gingrich would make the Virginia primary ballot. Failure to gather enough valid petition signatures would not only shut candidates out of the state’s ballot, a failure of this level was an indicator that the candidate didn’t have the heft to win the Republican nomination nationwide. 

After Gingrich failed to turn in enough valid signatures and in turn did not make the ballot, his campaign manager compared the situation to the bombing of Pearl Harbor. Merry, Christmas to all and to all a good, wait . . . what?

My then-boyfriend’s parents could not understand what type of a person would spend Christmas Day working. I explained to them that this was my job. To be the eyes and ears when everyone else is eating their holiday ham. That’s the sort of drive it takes to succeed as a young journalist just starting out. You have to be willing to take the shifts and write the stories that no one else wants to.

Becoming well known as a journalist comes with substantially more ‘freedom’ to work a regular schedule, but the good journalists like to stay in the thick of things from-time-to time because the political circus is what makes this field of work so darn enticing. Established journalists also have to worry about staying ‘relevant’ and getting booked on for good TV gigs. If you’re really lucky, you’ll get to celebrate your Sunday by getting up at the crack of dawn for a Sunday morning news show. (Which also requires hours of prep work the day or night before.) And if you’re really lucky, maybe you’ll become an editor at a major publication, where you’ll be responsible for keeping the publication up-to-date come hell, high water or polar vortexes.

I personally thrive in the sorts of environments described above. My family has come to accept that I’ll likely spend some part of my holiday visit tucked away in a corner binge covering the news. It’s just who I am. Meanwhile, former interns of mine have seen the sacrifices I’ve made to make Red Alert Politics a success and have decided working in political journalism isn’t for them. That’s OK, too. It’s OK to want to have a personal life that involves spending Christmas with your family uninterrupted. I believe you would be described as a normal person.

What’s most important is that you find the career that’s right for you and give it your best shot. If you’re honest with yourself about your interests and abilities, and work hard to achieve your goals, you’ll ultimately have a very fulfilling and successful career.

Francesca Chambers is Editor of Red Alert Politics, an online publication written by and for young conservatives. She is also a contributor to The Washington Examiner.