Putting Students At The front Lines Of Political Reporting

Sean Ewart, standing far right, and his fellow reporters from the spring 2012 class. Ewart now works as a communications professional in the state Legislature.

In January 2012 I entered the newsroom of the Legislative Gazette, happy to have found a place outside the classroom to finish off the last 15 credits I needed to graduate. My college years contained a fitting collection of intellectual dead ends and misplaced ideological commitments – a journalism internship, operating as it does outside of those partisan circles, was the ideal capstone to that experience. Under the watchful eye of Editor James Gormley (whose patience knows no bounds) I was given a front row seat to the operations of state government. Far from a care facility for students suffering senioritis, the Legislative Gazette proved to be an internship that nurtured our passion, critiqued and challenged our opinions, and endeavored to make us stronger writers and more precise seekers of truth.

Over drinks with classmates that semester we raised a red solo cup to the Gazette, remarking that our internship would likely be “the most interesting job we’d have for the next five years.” What’s remarkable about the Gazette is it skips the typical introductory experience and throws 21-year-olds into the front lines of political reporting. We each tried our hand at photography, videography, writing, editing – all at a level most journalists don’t experience until the zenith of their career. Upon graduation I found myself beginning at the lowest rung of a local newspaper – indeed, we may have underestimated how long it would be until we found jobs as interesting as our internship.

Sean, right, and his Legislative Gazette classmates NOT covering state politics.

The magic of the Legislative Gazette is the responsibility they give to the young people in the program. The sink or swim mentality allows failure to be the foundation for future success and celebrates the process as much as the product. In my case, the ability to find my own leads, chase down my own stories, and take risks that may or may not have lead to anything, gave me the confidence to act independently in my career post-college (Gormley’s editorial insights were helpful too… it’s important to know when *not* to publish and when you’re being overconfident in your reporting). Whether we were photographing the Occupy protests, pressed between the protesters and the police, or reporting on the state budget at one in the morning, the Gazette was supportive and instructional.

Now working on the “dark side” in the state Legislature, the Legislative Gazette and StateWatch (shoutout) are the two internship programs I most recommend to young people hoping to get an inside perspective on the political life of New York state. The view from the presspool is an invaluable perspective that endows participants with a holistic understanding of the ebbs and flows of legislation, activism, and politics – and, hopefully, alumni are instilled with a respect for the freedom and indispensability of the press that follows them into their future careers. Here’s to 40 more years.