Understandably missing from the headlines during the week of the Senate Coup was any mention of the new class of interns with the Legislative Gazette. But that tumultuous day, which kicked off a summer of upheaval, was also the first day of the rest of my life.
In the scramble to find something (anything) to do after graduation in 2009, I applied for the Legislative Gazette’s summer program. My resume consisted of political columns for my college newspaper and 23 shared chromosomes with the managing editor of my home newspaper. Despite my apparent shortcomings, I soon found myself on the Northway Express service to the Empire State Plaza.
It didn’t dawn on me until my first assignment how much I didn’t know and the steepness of the learning curve. Who was Richard Ravitch? How do you write a traditional news lede?? Where was the press conference in room 130 of the LOB?!?!?!?
Apparently, based on the recollections of fellow intern Ted Bean, my shortcomings (real and imagined) were well hidden at first. “You didn’t know how to report at all, but I didn’t realize that for a week or two,” remembers Ted, who wisely pursued a more lucrative career in financial compliance.
With the support of Jamie Gormley, I dove headlong into the ongoing melodrama for control of the Senate. It felt like breathless tick-tock coverage even though I was really only producing weekly summaries that lacked any insight and were inspired by the daily coverage from the talented LCA writers. It was enough for me to get hooked on the Capitol and state politics
The summer was a blur, but I can still remember all the career firsts. I awkwardly photographed a press conference, nervously called for comment, went to the Red Room, interviewed an elected official and passionately (although probably misguidedly) defended my work against edits.
It wasn’t until our internship class heard from a young Jimmy Vielkind, then with the New York Observer, that it dawned on me that I could theoretically play a supporting role in Albany’s soap opera after the summer was over. He was young, enthusiastic about his job and got paid to report on all these shenanigans. I could be like him sans the urban planning degree!
One year later my chance came when a daily newspaper in Schenectady hired me as a part-time general assignment reporter. Standing in my way was the reality that their state reporter position got axed during recession layoffs.
Though as Ted reminded me, I had a habit of carving out my own beat (“You kept calling people about some [Congressional] election in the North Country even though you weren’t assigned a story on it”), so in hindsight it makes sense that I became the de facto state reporter largely through persistence. Plus, there was some of that “fake it ‘till you make it” spirit that fueled the summer of 2009.
For me, and countless more talented journalists, The Legislative Gazette was a launching pad into the world. It was a safe space to fail, a chance to succeed and an opportunity to discover who I wanted to be.
David Lombardo is the Capitol Reporter & Development Strategist for New York StateWatch, a non-partisan legislative tracking and reporting service covering state government.