By Judy Berthiaume, Integrated Marketing and Communications, UW-Eau Claire
When people say that timing is everything they could easily be talking about Samantha West, a UW-Eau Claire journalism student whose Winterim involved working in the newsroom of The Washington Post as this year’s Ann Devroy Fellow.
After arriving in Washington, DC earlier this month, she had a front row seat for – among other things – the White House’s reaction to the newly released book “Fire and Fury,” the Donald Trump-Steve Bannon feud, the latest twists and turns in the Russian investigation and a Golden Globes speech that launched an “Oprah for 2020” movement.
“It certainly hasn’t been boring,” West said of her short but head-spinning time in the nation’s capital. “I’ve seen a ton of big news happen while in D.C., where much of it is actually taking place. The greatest part of it all is seeing some of the best journalists in the country cover it. It’s beyond enthralling to see how a large, national newspaper covers these events in dynamic, creative ways.
West is the 20th Devroy Fellow in a program that honors the late Ann Devroy, a 1970 UW-EC graduate often described as one of the best journalists ever to cover the White House. Devroy, who died of cancer in 1997 at 49, covered the White House for The Washington Post for some eight years after spending a similar amount of time in Gannett’s Washington bureau.
A key aspect of the Devroy Fellowship is the opportunity to spend the three weeks of UW-EC’s Winterim term in The Post’s newsroom.
Post was making its own headlines
West was in Washington at a time when The Post itself was making headlines thanks to the release of “The Post,” a movie dealing with the events leading up to the 1971 Pentagon Papers decision by the Supreme Court. That decision denied the government’s effort to stop The Post and The New York Times from publishing information about a top-secret Defense Department history of the United States’ role in Indochina and, more specifically, Vietnam.
The film, which was released in December, was directed by Steven Spielberg and stars Meryl Streep and Tom Hanks. Much like the highly acclaimed “All the President’s Men,” this latest newsroom drama also shines a spotlight on the journalism profession as well as on The Washington Post.
West noted that, while not perfect, movies like “The Post” can serve as powerful reminders about the critical role the news media play in a democracy.
“Whatever your political affiliation, we all need to be informed,” West said. “We all need the news, and we all need someone to dig it up and make sure our political representatives are doing their jobs.
Post‘s journalists much like others
West said that her stint in the real Post newsroom also reminded her that despite the glamour of having their newspaper showcased on the big screen and their bylines recognized worldwide, the reporters working at The Post are not very different from other journalists she knows.
“It’s cool to humanize The Washington Post by seeing it firsthand,” West says. “Like any other newsroom I’ve been in, the journalists are typing away. They’re chugging coffee. They’re praying they’ll make their deadline. They’re jumping when someone brings food to the newsroom. We’re all the same. We all work hard.”
Still, she knows she has much to learn from working alongside some of the most respected reporters in the world.
“It’s not about getting as many bylines as possible, but it’s about experiencing a major daily newspaper,” West said of the fellowship opportunity.
West called being a Devroy Fellow “incredibly humbling” and added:
“To be associated with Ann’s name is an honor in itself, but to also go to a newspaper as prestigious and invaluable (as The Post) to preserving the democracy of this country is incredible.”
West worked in “Style” section
With an interest in pursuing a career in arts and entertainment reporting, West asked to be assigned to The Post’s Style section.
As a student journalist, she has written entertainment-related stories for the Eau Claire Leader-Telegram and UW-EC’s student paper, The Spectator. However, writing about pop culture at the national level was a new and invaluable experience, she said.
And, with pop culture and politics more intertwined than ever, it was an especially interesting time to be part of the Style section reporting team, West said. She was also scheduled to shadow reporters in the national and metro sections before returning to Eau Claire.
West had visited Washington, D.C., twice before her fellowship, once for a school trip and once for a higher education journalism summit. It was a completely new experience, however, to be there as a working reporter, she said.
After a couple of days in the Post newsroom, West said she stopped shaking from nerves and excitement, but she was still awed to find herself sitting among the many accomplished journalists working there.
“There’s absolutely no way to describe how it feels to be in this newsroom,” West said, adding that she expected “to leave more energized than ever about becoming a journalist.
“I can’t wait to bring that energy back to my last semester as a Blugold,” she said.
Judy Berthiaume is a Senior Editor in the UW-Eau Claire News Bureau.
The Home Page photo of Samantha West was provided by UW-Eau Claire.