By day, Cheryl W. Thompson investigates the District’s leaders as a reporter for The Washington Post. By night, she instructs students in her profession as a journalism professor at Georgetown University.

Thompson has traveled the country working as an investigative journalist throughout her career and is in her 12th year at The Washington Post. And since taking a job as a lecturer in the English department four years ago, she’s spent one night every week on the Hilltop teaching intro to journalism.

In an interview with THE HOYA, Thompson discusses the ups and downs of being an investigative reporter, her best and nuttiest experiences on the job and her impressions of Georgetown.

So, why journalism?

I’ve wanted to be a journalist since I was about 12, and when I was a kid, Jessica Savitch used to be on the television, and I said I wanted to be like Jessica Savitch. . I was always good at English and grammar. My dad was a school teacher, and I had parents who were sticklers for the English language. So I was always good – my mother used to drill it into me, and we’d have spelling quizzes at home and grammar, so that was always sort of my forte.

What’s the Post’s secret? How’s it been different working there than some of the other places you’ve worked previously?

Well, it’s The Washington Post. And it has this national reputation, and so as I was moving around from newspaper to newspaper as my career was starting, you know you always want to go, wanted to work at a paper, get some experience and move to a larger paper, and the Post recruited me. I was working at another paper in Kansas City on the investigative team, and I got a call from the Post, and I sent my resume. . And after that they called me and I interviewed, and the rest, the rest is history.

What’s the most rewarding story you’ve worked on at the Post?

God, there have been so many. I’ve really had an opportunity to do some great stories at the Post. I assign my own stories. And I have editors who trust my judgment and believe in what I do, and I’ve had that luxury.

But one of the most interesting stories I did .I spent two years researching and writing a three-part series on doctors who have drug and alcohol problems and get repeated chances by the medical board. So it was a serious look-in at doctors and how they can get in trouble and move around from state to state before their past catches up with them. I really enjoyed doing that. I learned so much by doing it. And I still get calls; it ran in 2005 in the spring – in April, actually. And I still get e-mails, and I still get calls. I got one as recently as last week.

Any experiences that you just look back on and laugh?

Yeah, well when I was just starting out in Champagne, Ill., and I had work at the News-Gazette. And I was working a Sunday shift, and it was a small paper – it’s a college town where I went to school at the University of Illinois, and I was working at the paper there, my first job. And I remember I got called in – I want to say it was some kind of homicide, I don’t remember all the details. But what I do remember is I got dressed in a hurry, and I got to the office, and I looked down and I realized that I had one navy pump shoe and one black pump shoe. And I couldn’t go home, because I was the only person on duty that night. And then I ruined my shoes going out to the homicide scene, and anybody who knows me knows I’m a shoe girl, and I was not pleased that I ruined my shoes.

With the industry going through a lot of changes right now – with newsrooms getting smaller and a lot of coverage moving to the Web – how have you felt the effects?

You know, my job hasn’t changed; I’ve really been fortunate on the investigative team. Our jobs haven’t changed. The newsroom is shrinking at newspapers all over the country, but there’s always going to be an audience for newspapers. And so I don’t believe that newspapers will ever totally vanish.

What’s it like being an investigative journalist?

You have no friends (laughs). People don’t like you.

But I’ve learned not to take things personally, because as investigative journalists, it’s our job to hold people accountable. And that doesn’t always make you the most popular. But over the years, I’ve developed a thick skin.

How’d you get into teaching, and what’s your experience been like at Georgetown?

y first teaching job was, I was working in Gainesville, Fla., at The Gainesville Sun – it was my second job out of graduate school, and I taught for a semester at the University of Florida. . And I started teaching at Georgetown, this is my fourth year of teaching the intro class, and every class is different.but I love teaching; I love, love, love teaching.

Any advice for a young journalist?

One piece of advice would be to start at a small paper or a television station or a radio station and listen, listen, listen and learn. There’s something to be said, I think, for journalists who start small and work their way up. I think by the time you get to places like The Washington Post or The New York Times, or network or a major market, you really appreciate it more because you know how hard you worked to get there. And don’t worry about the money – it’ll come.

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