My byline goes mainstream: Behind the scenes

I remember the time I first saw my name in print, that little byline in The Falcon Flyer (those were the days, kids). If you’ve never had anything published, you really can’t understand the thrill of seeing your name at the top of a piece, especially if you’re proud of what you wrote. And it’s an excitement that does not diminish with time either. I am still just as excited to see my byline now as I was back then.
Slash also more excited because now my byline is in the Washington Post. 

Right from the get-go, Lily assigned me to a story about the Partnership for Public Service “Service to America” medals, which are awarded to federal government employees for their commitment throughout their careers. Lily was already going to attend the event with a videographer, in order to interview all of the medal winners and ask about their views of leadership. The medals were going to be awarded at a gala event on Thursday, Sept. 15, and I began researching immediately because all I had was a press release. I found out that while many of the medals honor career-long service, one award, the “Call to Service” medal, goes to a government employee who is younger than 35 and has been with the government for fewer than five years. In this case, the winner was Ann Martin, who is 30…and already completed research that prompted the Mexican government to enact new regulations about deposits of American money at Mexican banks. She’s just thwarting money laundering and the entire drug trade while she’s at it.

As a result of her sensitive line of work, this particular young woman wasn’t going to be able to be filmed for our video. I thought this was especially interesting, and I decided that was going to be the angle for my story. Rather than try to write about all of the award winners, I started to focus specifically on Ann Martin. Bingo.

And here’s a random, mostly unrelated, but still cool story: At 1 p.m. on Thursday, I got to sit in on Emi’s interview with the founder of TED, Richard Wurman. She seemed really nervous about the interview, possibly because I was listening in and watching her, but he was a good sport and he broke the ice really well with his sense of humor. It was entertaining because she went in to the interview knowing that he wanted to talk up and promote his new conference, but she was determined not to let that happen. I could tell she had done extensive research beforehand because all of her questions referenced previous interviews that he had given.

At 3 p.m. I interviewed Max Stier, president and CEO of the Partnership for Public Service – my first interview for the Post! As I incorporated his quotes into my draft, it was encouraging to see an actual story take shape, rather than just a skeleton shakily built from press release material. At 5 p.m. Lily and I got ready to go to the PPS event with our videographer, Ben. We took a cab to D.A.R. Hall, where I quickly realized that I was way under-dressed for this black-tie event. Oops – new journalist faux pas. Needless to say, I felt incredibly out of place as I interviewed Ann Martin; not only was I under-dressed, but I am also way behind the curve when it comes to serious accomplishments like this woman has!

Following the time I spent at the gala, a series of rather traumatic events occurred. My evening involved bad weather, no umbrella, getting lost downtown, waiting for buses that never arrived, and walking home in high heels. BUT I AM A JOURNALIST and I prevailed against the odds. I made it home, took a hot shower, and sat down to write. As I did, I felt myself fall back into the familiar rhythm of news writing, and it was so satisfying…

But not as satisfying as seeing my story on the main page of the On Leadership site the next morning. There it was, my name on a Washington Post story, out there for the world to see and read. (I might have freaked out a little bit and sent the link to my mom, who freaked out a lot and sent the link to everyone I’ve ever known.)

Will I look back on this story one day (next week, or any time in my career, really) and think, “Wow, that was really terrible writing”? Probably. But could anything be as sweet as that first moment I saw the headline and my byline beneath it? No. It doesn’t get old. And maybe that’s part of what I love about journalism. The research, the reporting, the whole struggle – it’s worth it. The thrill is worth it every time.


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