Sara Burnett Drever
Majors: Communication and Spanish
Year of Graduation: 1995
Graduate School: Northwestern University, Medill School of Journalism, MSJ 1998
Current Position: Political reporter, Associated Press, Chicago, IL
Please give a brief description of your current position.
I am a Chicago-based political reporter for The Associated Press. I'm currently assigned to the team covering the 2020 presidential race. In addition to covering a few candidates, including traveling to report on campaign events, developments and debates/forums, I also cover the broader political dynamics happening in the Midwest.
What path did you follow to get to your current position?
After graduating from CSB/SJU I worked as an admission counselor for two years before moving to Chicago to attend Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern. I received my master's degree in journalism through Medill's one-year program, which included reporting in Chicago and a quarter in Washington, D.C. My first "real" journalism job was with the Daily Herald in suburban Chicago, where I gained all kinds of daily newspaper experience, covering the night cops shift, city government, state court, education and special projects. I moved to Colorado in 2005 and worked at the Rocky Mountain News, where I started covering politics during the 2008 presidential race. The Rocky closed in 2009, and after a brief time doing communications for a medical association, I went to work at the Denver Post. In 2012 I moved back to Chicago to cover politics for The Associated Press.
What advice/suggestions would you have for students who might be interested in your career?
- Your liberal arts education is a terrific way to begin a career as a journalist. Every day you will be learning something new. You must have the ability to move from subject to subject, issue to issue, and to think critically about all of it.
- Try to get some real-life experience writing for a newspaper, website, magazine or TV or radio station. You'll want to have "clips" of your work to show potential employers (nowadays this is typically a website you set up with your work and information about you).
- Read everything you can, and make sure there is diversity in your source material. (Twitter counts, but only if you use it to find smart and interesting people writing about topics outside of your usual reading, and/or your comfort zone).
What skills are important in your field?
- Critical thinking
- Social Media/web
- Math/data analysis is a bonus, but at a minimum you need some familiarity with using spreadsheets, data, etc.
- A second language is also very helpful.
What is the most satisfying/rewarding part of your position?
Getting to tell people's stories, inform the public and sometimes expose injustices. Being a journalist is a lot like being in college - every day you get to take a new course, meet new people, have your mind stimulated. I've gotten to meet presidents and senators and people who are not famous but equally impressive and inspiring. You will get to go to places and do things you would get to do working in a traditional office setting. And being around other journalists is a lot of fun.
It is not a 9-5 job. To be good at it, you have to be reading and paying attention to news all the time. You do not leave your work at the office. You will cover things in the middle of the night and on weekends and some of it will keep you up at night. There may be tight deadlines and stress and depending on where you work, you may not make a whole lot of money.
What activities/experiences were helpful at CSB/SJU (and elsewhere) in preparation for this career?
- I worked for The Record (then the CSB newspaper) and was the editor my senior year. I also got the chance to write for the St. Cloud Times while I was a student, through the journalism instructor.
- I was a Spanish major in addition to communication, and I studied abroad in Spain. Language skills are a big plus. Speaking Spanish has helped me on many stories -- and gotten me TWO all-expenses paid trips to Mexico as a journalist.
- I worked in admissions as a student and later as an admission counselor. This really helped me get more comfortable with walking up to total strangers and asking them to tell me their stories. This is not a skill that comes naturally to every journalist but it's important!