March 1, 2012

Profiles in Liberty: Robert Bluey

By: Jacqueline Otto

Robert Bluey Heading the investigative journalism team at the Heritage Foundation, Robert Bluey is on the leading-edge of the growth of research organizations into news-making.

“There are things we bring to the table in conjunction with policy analysts that makes a really effective team,” he says, “They are…coming up with new and creative ideas, and we are able to apply it to current events and really break news.”

By not being tied to a regular reporting beat, the investigative journalists at think tanks like the Heritage Foundation are able to produce more in-depth stories and documentaries than the traditional news sources. More and more think tanks and non-profit organizations such as the Franklin Center, the Center for Public Integrity, and on the left, the Center for American Progress are hiring and funding journalists.

There are opportunities in this growing area for students with backgrounds in journalism or political science, or as in Bluey’s case, who minored in political science, both.

I was a journalism major myself, but there are plenty of great journalists who didn’t have formal journalism training in college. Having a passion or desire to tell stories, and a great ability to write – those are the qualities that would make for somebody who would be a great fit.

 A new opportunity for journalism majors.

Most journalism majors are not going to consider going to work at a policy-based think tank. Bluey found his way to one of the leading conservative think tanks though an unpredictable path.

I was always interested in journalism, starting in high school. When I was a senior in high school I went to work for a newspaper in Clinton, New York, called the Clinton Courier, and did that before I went to college. As soon as I went to Ithaca College, I immediately got involved in the school newspaper. That was the next four years of my life, and that is where I met my wife.

As a senior in college, Bluey knew that he wanted to report on policy debates, and not on the “horse race” of political campaigns. He didn’t know, though, where that was going to take him. He went to Los Angeles, California, interning for the online Los Angeles Times. Returning to New York, he worked for a liberal member of the New York State Assembly in Albany. From these experiences he knew he wanted to work in a capital, which led him to apply for a fellowship at the Student Press Law Center. Being awarded that fellowship, brought him to Washington, DC, where he has worked ever since.

I was surveying the landscape. As someone who was just in an entry-level position like that, it’s very unlikely that you are going to get hired at a Politico or a Washington Post, or something like that right out of the gate. I’m sure that it happens, but the odds aren’t very good. Well I didn’t have the patience to go work for a weekly newspaper or to leave DC and start at a smaller place.

Bluey took a position with CNS News at the Media Research Center, which allowed him to do the reporting and cover the 2004 election.Next, he moved to Human Events where he started as a reporter, then became managing editor, and then took over as editor of Human During his time at Human Events, the Heritage Foundation and Human Events jointly cofounded the Bloggers Briefing.

It was that connection which brought him to the Heritage Foundation, where he continues to host the Bloggers Briefing, which is a weekly event that brings together conservative bloggers with “newsmakers and political insiders – including congressmen, authors and scholars.”

While this role allowed Bluey to function in the world of journalism, he was itching to get back to the investigative journalism that he loved. Vice President of Communications, Mike Gonzalez, who came to the Heritage Foundation after a career at the Wall Street Journal agreed with Bluey’s vision, and a couple years ago Bluey was able to bring his passion to leading the investigative journalism program, the Center for Media and Public Policy.

Our goal is to write about policy issues. Having that focus is another advantage we have that you wouldn’t necessarily have at a news organization, where you could end up going off on any number of divergent paths in terms of pursuing stories. Whereas we have policy experts in the building, so we have a great resource right there. When they aren’t sources, they provide the background information that we need.

We are trying to be the disruptive force, the innovators at Heritage… I like to be in that position where I am pushing the envelope and trying new things.

Bluey says that he wants to use the investigative journalism team at the Heritage Foundation to equip and expand the journalists of the conservative movement. “It is always great to have more voices,” he says, “the more we can do to give them the opportunity to write and give them that training, the better off we will all be at the end of the day.”

When young journalists are just getting started.

For young people that are interested working in investigative journalism, Bluey recommends getting some traditional journalism experience first.

You have to be creative, and you have to think about the various stories you want to tell. The advice that I have is that sometimes when you are coming out of college, you may not be in the best position to really know what is a great story. So having that experience where you are on a beat can actually help. I think I am a much better reporter and journalist because I had that.

He also recommends blogging, either on your own blog or for another blog. It is a great way to show your writing chops and to show what you are interested in. It “can only enhance someone’s resume.”

I wouldn’t just stop at blogging. Having an active following on twitter and utilizing as many social media channels as you feel capable of doing. I think that makes you much more marketable as an intern or job candidate. If you are weighing two people, and one person has a thousand followers on twitter, and the other person isn’t on twitter, the first person’s reach is only going to grow and they have the foresight to be thinking about this today.

If you are just starting out in Washington, DC, there are many great resources to find internships, job openings, and networking opportunities. Bluey specifically recommends the Heritage Foundation’s Job Bank.

America’s Future is also a fantastic resource for job seekers. If you are looking for a job or internship, make sure to check the AF Career Center regularly, attend our networking events and monthly roundtables, and follow the Free the Future blog for early career advice.

Final Piece of Advice from Robert Bluey.

Be clear about what you want. If you just show up and are willing to take any job, it will be harder for you to find the right fit. If you say, “I want to do health policy” that helps you narrow your target, but it also gives someone in a hiring capacity the ability to identify the right fit. It shows somebody that you have some passion, that you have some long-term thinking about your career.

 The work of the investigative journalism team at the Heritage Foundation can be found regularly on their blog, Scribe. Also, make sure to follow Robert Bluey on Twitter @RobertBluey.

Jacqueline Otto’s shelves at home are lined with used-book store finds; just a few of her favorite authors include C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, H.G. Wells, Orson Scott Card, Ray Bradbury, Jules Verne, and George Orwell.

She first read F.A. Hayek and Frédéric Bastiat at 16. Her political affiliation on Facebook is “Freedom,” and she hopes to always be known as a lover of liberty.

Jacqueline is on Twitter at @jacque_otto.