What has your experience been like at Politico so far? Great. Coming in, I wasn’t sure what to expect — I was a soon-to-be HBCU grad with a semester to go and very little interest in politics when I was offered a yearlong fellowship. But the transition was smooth. In fact, the hardest part about it was mental. I was in a newsroom with policy wonks and unbelievably well connected Ivy League-educated reporters who actually had backgrounds in politics and government.
How important is it to have experience in your field prior to working at an online magazine like Politico? I needed a push to get involved with student media, but I have absolutely no regrets about it. I was learning journalism and perfecting my craft on real content that involved real stories and potentially impacted real people. And when I say I gave my all to the school newspaper, I really mean I gave my all. I went from riding around campus on a golf cart delivering the paper to accepting a legacy award.
What books are you reading? I wish I could give you an answer and feel a bit guilty that I can’t. I haven’t made much spare time to read any books. I’ve mostly been consuming news or playing my PS4 or watching Netflix as a break from all that’s going on.
Describe your time at FAMU. Whenever I talk about how I wound up at FAMU, I say it’s the best decision I never made. I was a high school athlete, so I wanted to play football and/or run track at the next level. More specifically, though, I was a scholar athlete, and my grades enabled me to go to FAMU and graduate without having to take out a single loan. Ultimately, my parents told me I was going to FAMU, so to FAMU I went.
So, how does journalism play a role in this? FAMU is where I found journalism — or, more accurately, where it found me. I started out as a graphic design student, and I also walked onto the track team my freshman year. I pulled my hamstring early in the season and never recovered that year, so I decided to hang my spikes up when it ended.
Really? Yeah. During my sophomore year, despite studying graphic design, I had to take an introductory language skills for media professionals’ class. And even though I procrastinated far too often and did my work the morning of, at best, by the end of the semester I was accepting a class award as the top writer in the class. Joining The Famuan was life-changing and it prepared me for just about everything I’ve been able to do at POLITICO.
What’s so special about the black college founded on the highest seven hills in Tallahassee, Florida? FAMU taught me so many things. It defied stereotypes. It taught me things about my history and culture that no teacher had ever mentioned before. I learned to be a professional and take nothing for granted.
What’s your thoughts on the 2016 election cycle? This is the first election I’ve really paid attention to. I’m so deep into it I know the candidates’ stump speeches and talking points almost as well as they do. Regardless of the finish, I think it’s safe to say this is a historic election. A political outsider is dominating the Republican primary — so much so that the presumed nominee, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, was essentially a non-factor, despite the vast amount of money his Right to Rise USA super PAC raised.
I read your piece on the leader of the Nation of Islam who recently praised presidential candidate Donald Trump; why is this important (or scary)? Minister Louis Farrakhan’s comments regarding Trump is really just another indication that the world is watching. World leaders are paying attention to this election. Even the pope has gotten involved to an extent. This is one for the books, and like the rest of the world, I’m waiting to see how it all plays out.
What are your long-term goals in journalism? I never saw myself being a political journalist, but I’m enjoying the experience. I have a background in sports journalism and news producing. I love sports, and maybe one day I’ll jump back into it or get back into news producing, but what I do is important work, and while I’m here one of my goals has been to put myself out there and show people who look like me this is a viable option, too. Every black reporter doesn’t have to aim for ESPN.
What’s one advice you would give to any student journalist at black colleges? Surround yourself with like-minded people.
Yes, I agree. When you hang around the right people, you elevate one another. You have access to someone you may aspire to be like. And hopefully you can become that person and fill that leadership role for the younger students who look up to and aspire to be like you.
Anything else you would like to add? When it comes to journalism opportunities, don’t let self-doubt stop you from aiming high.
Nolan D. McCaskill is a breaking news reporter at POLITICO. He is also 2014 graduate of Florida A&M University, where he received legacy, vision and student journalist of the year awards for his leadership and selflessness.