Tamila Khalikova and Mohamed Moustafa, two Virginia International University students on the path to graduate this May 2016, had an opportunity and interview John Hughes, this year’s keynote speaker.
John Hughes is an editor for Bloomberg News’ First Word DC, a breaking news desk in Washington DC, and the 108th president of the National Press Club, the world’s leading professional organization for journalists.
Hughes welcomed the students to the Bloomberg offices in DC, where they had the chance to take a tour. Bloomberg News produces approximately 5,000 stories each day from more than 150 bureaus in 73 countries.
Tamila Khalikova: Hello John, thank you so much for taking the time to answer our questions today. We’re excited to hear you speak at VIU’s commencement ceremony on May 7th.
John Hughes: Thank you for being here – I’ve really been impressed with VIU. Every contact I’ve had has been fantastic thus far.
TK: You have started your career as a journalist in 1987 after receiving your Bachelor’s degree in Political Science from the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis. What influenced you to pursue this career?
JH: When I was a child, I started writing stories and books – I think I wrote my first real story in second grade, about 8 years old. I would just have so much fun writing these stories, so I pretty much always knew since I was very small that I wanted to write and work with words. Initially, I wanted to be an author. That was my first career ambition. About the time I got to high school, I learned about a great author by the name of Ernest Hemingway and read some of his books. I eventually learned that Hemingway was a journalist. So I decided that if you were going to be an author, the best thing to do would be to start as a journalist.
At that time, the Watergate Scandal was happening in the United States, and there were a couple of reporters by the name of Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein for The Washington Post breaking the big stories on corruption in President Nixon’s White House. They were essentially heroes, and another reason I wanted to become a journalist.
I focused my whole education around being a journalist, and even though I was a political science major in college, I knew I wanted to write. I was working at the college paper and writing news stories every day, and I knew that the political science aspect of my education would give me the knowledge to more effectively write.
Mohamed Moustafa: How do you think your Master’s degree from Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism shaped and inspired your career today?
JH: Northwestern University has one of the best journalism schools in the country, and probably the world. When I finished my undergraduate, I knew that most journalist started their careers at small newspapers in a small town back then, and I wasn’t quite ready to do that. So I said, “I’ll go to this one-year program at Northwestern and get a Master’s degree. Then I’ll be ready to go into the small-town newspaper.”
I had that wonderful experience of one year. I learned so much, because Northwestern University’s Master’s program is focused on getting students out into the field and doing real reporting. I was covering the police in Downtown Chicago; I was part of the Washington program and covered Congress for Nebraska during an internship; in my third trimester, I covered the courts of South of Chicago. It was really a lot of great practical experience that was useful for my career. That’s what a great education system does – I’m sure that VIU does the same thing, give you hands-on experience.
TK: Can you tell us about your role as an editor for Bloomberg First Word DC? What are your key responsibilities?
JH: As an editor on the First Word team is breaking news – telling the customer what’s going on right now, as it happens. Our whole team is built around the “just happening now” concept.
I used to be a reporter covering transportation, and as a reporter at Bloomberg, you are out meeting sources, going to lunches, doing all kinds of things out of the office, so you’re not on top of the breaking news all of the time. So that’s why we created this team that I’m on. When reporters are out, and something happens, we don’t have to call them up and ask them to cover the event – we just move on it right away. We’ll be proactive. For instance, just before you came in, I was covering the White House briefing on the Nuclear Summit. There were three White House officials briefing the media, and Bloomberg had a reporter in the room. That reporter was sending us emails on what was being said, but I was watching it in real time and putting out headlines as the words were coming out of the speaker’s mouths. That’s what our team does, it’s unlike what I used to do as a reporter, where I would go out and cover things. Now everything comes to me via these data portals at my workstation, and I will have to make the split second decisions on what is news and what’s not news.
MM: So being an editor for a breaking news desk is a 24/7 job – what would you say keeps you motivated when working a demanding, yet rewarding, position?
JH: The most fun part of being an editor for Bloomberg, or any breaking news desk, is getting up every morning and not knowing what the day will bring. It’s a surprise every day. Take Monday, for example. It was going to be a quiet start to the week in the nation’s capital, where a lot of people are on Spring Break, and Congress was away, and then there was that shooting at the Capitol. Chaos, right? We moved so fast to get on that story.
Donald Trump had made his comment on punishing women if they get abortions, if abortion was against the law. That was a huge story. So, not only are we putting out what Trump said to the customer, but we’re also reporting on what Hillary Clinton said about Trump’s comments, what pro-life groups are saying about his comments, and what pro-choice groups are saying. There are so many things that happen so quickly in this 24/7 news cycle, and we’re doing it in minutes. It’s an adrenaline rush and it’s unpredictable.
I find this job less stressful than the last job I had as a reporter. As a reporter, it’s demanding when the news breaks and you’re not in a position to handle it. I would be home with my wife, eating dinner, and a plane would crash. From there, my evening would become very unsettled. I would have to write a story on it immediately. As an editor, I come in knowing I will be handling this unpredictable stuff. It’s sort of being a doctor in the emergency room; the doctor knows that he or she will be receiving traumas that day, whether it’s gunshot victims, fire victims, child injuries, what have you.
Being a First Word editor is very similar. You know that you will be getting these crazy stories, but you’re set up with the technology and knowledge to handle it on a daily basis. You don’t really have anything else on your agenda except to look at the news, so in that way it makes it relaxing. It’s not as fun when you make a mistake, but you just have to recover and move on.
TK: You served as a 108thPresident of the National Press Club in Washington DC. Can you give us a little insight on organization and its services?
JH: The National Press Club is the world’s leading professional organization for journalists. We have approximately 3,000 members from around the globe, it’s a very international organization. We represent working journalists and press freedom and act as a resource for journalists. These working journalists can come into the National Press Club to get training on things like how to utilize Google, or Facebook, or Twitter. They can get training on how to do a FOIA request, a Freedom of Information Act request. They can also come in and see newsmakers. For example, we have the head of the Centers for Disease Control coming in to make a speech soon, and we just had the head of the Internal Revenue Service in. Basically, the National Press Club is a hub for the profession of journalism.
MM: National Press Club plays an important role in protecting press freedom and journalists worldwide. What actions does the organization take to succeed?
JH: We mainly raise awareness. That’s the best thing we can do. The National Press Club is known around the world, and when we speak the message is transmitted around the world. It’s not always comfortable to have the organization criticizing when you’re a government entity.
TK: Technology and social media transformed the way people communicate and receive news. How has this influenced you professionally?
JH: Social media has changed everything. All news is now transmitted instantly. When I started my career, we were still writing things down in our notebooks, going back to the office and writing up a story, and then producing the story for the next morning’s newspaper. Those days are so far gone, because now the story happens the minute an event starts. We begin to put out information on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat – they’re all instant. The press has to be as instant as the technology. We have needed to be faster than ever, and that’s what First Word is all about.
MM: What do you think is the most important aspect of generally succeeding in a career?
JH: I think the most important aspect is determination to stick with a job and to do it well. I’m a personal believer in the saying by Woody Allen, “90% of the job is showing up.” Get up, dress up, go into the office, participate, work hard and do it. When bad things happen, don’t get discouraged – never give up, I think that is so important. Many people will get discouraged and believe there is something that will always block their way. I’m a big believe in never quitting, because if you keep morning forward you will succeed.
TK: VIU has students from over 100 countries. What advice do you have for the graduates that will be returning to their home countries?
JH: The United States are such a unique and wonderful place, with what I think are the best education institutions in the world. So it’s the hope that people will take their US experience back to their countries and put into practice some of the positive aspects of this country, like education and diversity. The people in this country are so diverse, and a majority embrace that diversity. Not everybody, unfortunately, as there are still many problems in the United States, but as a whole it’s a very promising experience thanks to the United States’ successful democratic experiment. The idea of students taking that taste of democracy and acceptance of religions back to their home countries, particularly countries that do now have the freedoms yet, is nice.
MM: The theme of this year’s graduation is “Difficult roads often lead to beautiful destinations.” What does that mean to you?
JH: What we’re seeing in the world right now is more instant communication, which leads to more interconnectedness than ever before. You can literally see what is happening on the other side of the world within seconds, or talk to someone thousands of miles away.
VIU has been, and is, a place where people from around the world can come together in a very direct way and learn together while celebrating an array of different cultures. I mean that’s amazing, what a wonderful gift. So you have to take that same interconnectedness out into the world, and keep that commitment to diversity and learning. I mean, we hear bad news like terrorism and human suffering often. We need to take this interconnection and the ability to communication around the world and use it to get over these global challenges that we face, and I’m proud of VIU for being a part of that.
Ultimately, more people are coming together, and being inclusive and accepting. Good triumphs over evil in the end; I believe that.
To learn more about Bloomberg News and the First Word News Desk, please visit: http://www.bloomberg.com/