FCGR Chris Hamby, '08

Journalism student interns for Stateline.org and sees his stories read worldwide

Name: Chris Hamby '08
Major: Journalism
Minor: Music and Philosophy
Academics: Oldham Scholar
Activities: Head copy editor, The Collegian
Saxophone player, University Jazz Ensemble
Mortar Board Society
Phi Eta Sigma

How did you land the gig?

I was familiar with Stateline.org, and my journalism professor Steve Nash suggested I apply. I contacted editors at Stateline and inquired about the position. I sent them a cover letter, resume, references and work clips, and I also applied to the D.C. Initiative program and spoke with Dan Palazzolo. The editors at Stateline conducted a phone interview with me, and a few weeks later, they offered me the internship.

I was able to get the job, I think, because I’d already had five consecutive summers of journalism internships. I spent the summers before my senior year in high school and before my freshman year of college as a sports reporting intern at the Nashville City Paper. In summer 2005, I was a reporting intern for the First Amendment Center. Last summer, I was selected as a Dow Jones Newspaper Fund copy editing intern, and I worked as a copy editor at The Tennessean.

What’s a typical day like?

After a short ride on the Metro, I usually get to work about 8:45 and start doing the daily roundup. Stateline provides a daily compendium of state government news stories. To do this, we peruse the Web sites of most of the nation’s largest newspapers and other new sources. Each reporter has a region. But I, being an intern, have a seemingly random smattering of states (Minnesota, Tennessee, Rhode Island, Hawaii, Utah and South Dakota). We pull links to relevant stories and compile them, then rank them in order of newsworthiness (admittedly a very subjective task) to determine the order in which they will appear on the site.

For the rest of the day, I research and conduct interviews for original stories. They are typically about state government trends—for example, what state governments are doing to address road rage and aggressive driving. Because the people I speak with are usually well informed and high-ranking, pre-interview research is much more important than in any other reporting work I have done. I often sift through densely written legislation, committee reports and other similarly engaging reading material. When I am finished with a story, it gets carefully vetted by editors, who confer with me about changes.

What’s been your best assignment of the summer?

Reporters at Stateline typically generate a majority of their story ideas themselves. Sometimes editors suggest ideas and talk with reporters about them. That was the case in a story I wrote about states mandating random steroid testing for high school athletes. Probably the most fun assignment I have done was when I was charged with writing the weekly "Worth Noting" column that appears on Stateline.org every Friday. It is a lighthearted wrap-up of strange state government news from the week.  Here’s some of my work.

Describe your work environment.

Stateline’s office looks like a smaller version of a typical newsroom—pods of four desk areas with junior partitions, offices for the editors. Also like a typical newsroom, it gets pretty loud sometimes with a roomful of reporters conducting interviews. The work atmosphere is great. I am one of two interns, and there are also two former interns who have become full-time reporters. Most of the reporters are young, smart and ambitious—good companions for the Friday happy hour at the aptly named Fourth Estate, which is right next to the office.

How has this internship prepared you for your future career?

This particular reporting job has suited me well because of my interest in political coverage and my desire to learn more about policy issues. Stateline embraces its role as one of the few places where journalists can still take time and craft long-form, in-depth pieces. I already knew from previous internships that I wanted a career in journalism, but this internship has perhaps helped me zero in on which area.

Any cool perks come with the job?

Good, free coffee—an invaluable perk. Nothing else too sexy—no ritzy meals or cocktails with Nancy Pelosi. Perhaps my counterparts interning at lobbying firms would have more stories on that front. Stateline has a syndication agreement with McClatchy-Tribune, however, so my stories have appeared in numerous newspapers across the country, which is pretty cool.

How has your liberal arts curriculum at Richmond prepared you for a career in journalism?

The best preparation Richmond has provided me has been the ability to get involved immediately. With help and urging from the journalism department—particularly Steve Nash, Mike Spear and Tom Mullen—I had a couple of front-page Collegian stories during the spring of my freshman year.

More generally, I was fortunate enough to bring in a number of credits from high school, so I have had the luxury of taking classes that really interested me. I discovered that I really like philosophy, and I have had some wonderful experiences playing sax on a quasi-professional level. My interests have broadened significantly, and I have developed a more analytic approach to work in general.

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