From the Classroom

From Capitol Hill intern to White House correspondent

How ABC’s Karen Travers caught the ‘journalism bug.’

[One-sentence description of what this media is: "A photo of a vaccine site on USC campus" or "Gif of dancing banana". Important for accessibility/people who use screen readers.]

Not only is she a passionate White House correspondent for ABC News, but Karen Travers is a passionate fan of the Philadelphia Eagles and is a double Georgetown Hoya. She has worked her way from interning with a U.S. Representative during undergrad to covering the George W. Bush campaign, and finally making her way to working at the White House. While at the White House, her primary responsibility is ABC Radio, where she not only covers Washington politics but hopes to cover different perspectives across the country. Although she was certain she would go into politics, she ended up catching the “journalism bug,” as labeled by colleagues from her previous internship, resulting in her launch into a remarkable career in journalism and reporting.

Tell me about yourself outside of work.

I have three kids. I have a 9-year-old, almost turning 10. She’s in fourth grade. Then I have 7-year-old twins, who are fun and energetic. They’re very geeky kids. They know a lot about politics. They pay attention to things and they’re interested in the stuff that I do at my job, which is really cool.

I met my husband here in D.C. and he works at the World Bank. He’s a policy person who understands what’s happening at my job and he’s really interested in that. I find it funny I’m talking to you on the Super Bowl day because we met while watching football. We met talking about watching football because he was with all his friends who are Washington Football fans and I’m an Eagles fan, and that’s how we first met. Football [has] always been a big part of all of us and going to games.

What led you to pursue journalism? How did you gain interest in it?

So, I went to Georgetown. I grew up in Philadelphia, and I came to Georgetown for college and was a government major and thought I wanted to go into politics.

I interned on Capitol Hill starting my second semester [of] sophomore year. I was working for a congressman [Rep. Michael Castle (R-Del.)]. I interned for the same congressman for five semesters and two full-time summers. So that’s what I thought I was going to do. I’ll graduate and I’ll work on the Hill.

If I ever wanted to consider TV journalism and politics. I probably should consider an internship while I’m still in college. [In] my second-semester senior year, I applied for an internship at ABC “This Week,” which is the Sunday morning show.

I got the internship. I’m doing that like five days a week, kind of still working for the congressman, which they [ABC News] knew. And after like a week I was like, “Oh wait this is what I’m supposed to be doing, I get it. This is a better fit. I am better at this. I am better at writing the questions for the journalists. Not writing the answers for the congressman.”

I applied for some journalism jobs and ABC hired me right after my internship ended, after graduation. That was the summer of 2000. I have not left. I have been at ABC since then.

What does your typical day look like?

I get up. I start getting my notes ready around 6. I start filing pieces in that 6 o’clock hour. Then I start the two-way [radio interviews] around 7, and then I do that for about three hours. I’m usually so busy in those three hours of talking to [ABC] Radio stations that that’s the priority at that point.

So much of our schedule, too, is dictated by the president’s schedule. You know, today, right now, it’s almost 5 o’clock, and we don’t know what tomorrow’s schedule is.

Your schedule is just so driven by the president’s schedule, the legislative schedule, and that’s just kind of how Washington works. So we’ll find out at some point tonight what time the briefing is, what time he’s speaking, and then we plan everything around that.

You’ve mentioned that you’ve covered a variety of topics, including COVID-19 and its effects on families, but also covering politics in the White House. How do you manage to stay educated on these beats?

You have to focus on the stuff that you’re being asked to report on. For months and months we had to know so much on infrastructure cause that was the main focus of the White House. Ukraine … came out of nowhere and became a story that we had to really heavily focus on and still do. Even now, infrastructure we still have to focus on so heavily because [President Biden] is doing so many events on the implementation of the infrastructure law.

It’s just a lot of reading and if tomorrow, for example, does become a day where there isn’t a big event with the president, but we’ve got just the briefing and then [we] try to use that as a day to catch-up and work on some pitches for other topics. We’ve got to take advantage of those days where [there is] only one event going on at the White House. Okay, let’s try to use those days to work on another story [about] something else. Because Friday, when I was at the White House, it was so busy, we were just running back to back to back events from morning till 6 o’clock. You know, you can’t do anything else except just cover what’s in front of you.

From what you told me and what I’ve gathered, you’re very passionate about what you do and your job. Is there somebody who had an influence on you professionally or has inspired you?

Yeah, I think several people. One, Martha Raddatz, who’s still currently working at ABC. She was somebody that always encouraged the young producers to be able to do more. Back when I [worried] I was not qualified to be doing some of these things. She’s like, “Yes, you are and you’re not going to learn unless you do it. That’s how you’re going to learn, by being on the road, by being out here and coming with me to Iraq and Bahrain. Coming with me on these big trips and doing big work. That’s how you’re going to get better at it.”

[Martha] is also a mom. She was so wonderful about teaching me at a young age before I was married, before I had kids and how you can do this business and have kids and be present with your kids, but also still be able to travel and do high-level journalism. [She] explain[s] in a very candid way about how it’s hard and you can’t have it all.

How do you balance your personal morals or set your own biases aside when pursuing a story?

That’s a tough one. I mean, you know, especially covering politics and, you know, it’s hard when you’re covering campaigns. I think it’s just trying to ask the question in as straightforward a way as possible. Remember that you’re asking for not yourself.

You have to take a step back and think about the policy impact of it and think about why that person made the decision that they did or why they’re about to do it the way they’re about to do it. And think of what the other side of it or the multiple sides of it and try [to] not think of it just from your own perspective.

How do you manage to get over your nervousness, anxiousness or uncertainty before reporting, especially with the White House?

I think the big thing to help with the nervousness is preparation. Any time we go into a briefing or walk into the Oval Office, I was in there on Friday when he was meeting with the president of Brazil. I’m not going to speak for other teams, but my team, we don’t wing it. I went in there with seven questions to be ready to shout at the president.

I think feeling confident that you’re ready to go and knowledgeable on your subject and have your questions ready can ease that as much as possible. It won’t make it go away entirely [but] can ease that and make you feel a little bit better.

Is there anything I’m not asking you that you would like to add?

Great question. One thing I get asked and I’m amazed because it’s not something I thought of when I was your age. But I often get asked about how I think about work-life balance issues.

So, you know, as you are thinking of jobs, I will say that it is not the greatest of industries to go into [for work life balance]. You’re going to work crappy shifts and get called because something weird just happened and you got to go cover it. But that’s exciting. It’ll be worth it. If you are expecting to be normal, what maybe your friends are doing right away in their twenties, it’s not like that right away.

We are trying to be more focused on that, where if you are not working then you can be off. Whereas for a long time, if people weren’t working, they felt like they had to still be working. We’re trying to get a little better about maintaining some boundaries.

More about these From the Classroom submissions: Students in an intro to reporting and writing course interviewed working journalists and asked their career advice and how they got their start. It’s a rare assignment where they were allowed to have just one source in the story or Q&A. Read more work “From the Classroom” here.