The Institute of Politics and Public Service hosted Independent Journal Review Executive Editor Michelle Jaconi (SFS ’96, GRD ’97), who discussed her careers at Georgetown and in the media in Old North on Tuesday.
The event was the second talk in IPPS’s Hoyas in Politics and Public Service series, which IPPS Executive Director Mo Elleithee described while moderating the discussion.
“The purpose of our HIPPSter series is to pull back the curtain a little bit and show you all that there are a lot of career paths in the public and private space,” Elleithee said. “Also to figure out the hows and the whys [alumni] got to where they are.”
Jaconi explained that her passion for journalism was sparked at a young age after her school in Los Angeles closed due to a lack of funding. She wrote a letter to her local paper, which gained traction and landed her in the state capital, where she confronted local lawmakers about the school’s closing.
She also said her time at Georgetown catalyzed her journalistic career, specifically highlighting the benefits of her multiple internships and writing for The Georgetown Voice.
“It is the one time in your life that you can dabble … and find out what you are supposed to do,” Jaconi said.
After graduation, Jaconi worked as a producer and political analyst at NBC’s “Meet the Press.” She spoke fondly of her time at the show under the program’s longest-serving moderator, Tim Russert, who died in 2008.
“What was so neat about Tim is that every newspaper and news entity had the same adjective to describe him after he died: beloved,” Jaconi said. “Who would get that today?”
She also credited her ascension in NBC to her motivation to contribute to Russert’s success.
“I think D.C. is such a meritocracy where if you work your butt off and never claim credit for anything when you need it, there is a lot of capital in the bank,” Jaconi said. “I am [a] helper. I like helping people, and I loved helping Tim.”
After 12 years at NBC, Jaconi moved to CNN to become executive producer of the cross-platform programming unit, which coordinates news coverage across all media platforms.
She said her specific interest in television journalism stems from the candid nature of live interviews.
“I love getting to know a candidate through the television,” Jaconi said. “They can’t hide behind anything like in print. …Live TV has this rawness and if you write the right question you get that chuckle or that thing.”
However, Jaconi left conventional television journalism because she believes it no longer carries the weight and influence it once did with the American public.
“If most people are getting their news through social media and most of the impact is through social media, how are the journalists not in social media?” Jaconi said. “That really bothered me.”
Following this revelation, Jaconi decided to join a venture that differed considerably from her last two positions at the Independent Journal Review.
IJ Review is a mobile news company that has 35 million unique viewers each month and is now one of the top 50 websites in the United States.
Jaconi attributed the success of the company to its ability to identify and hold an audience, filling a demand for moderate, fun and informative news, which has solidified its presence in the media world.
“[Founder and President of IJ Review] Alex Skatell wanted to find those commonsense people that want to vote and really wanted to find out information and weren’t crazy,” Jaconi said.
After the event, Jaconi spoke with students individually and said that her success in journalism is tied closely to the Jesuit education she received at Georgetown.
“I love that insatiable curiosity of the Jesuits and the fact that to be a Jesuit you actually have to master another faith,” Jaconi said. “A ‘Russert rule’ was to learn everything about the person who was coming on and then take the opposite side — and frankly that’s a lot like Jesuit education in a political concept.”
Scott Syroka (COL ’16) attended the event and said he found Jaconi to be a quintessential Hoya alumna.
“I think she is a great example of what a Georgetown education can provide, and she is a great example of living up to Jesuit values,” Syroka said.
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