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SJU Students Learn about Covering Politics from Veteran ABC Journalist

Friday, May 19, 2017

Rick Klein, the Political Director at ABC News, drew upon his two decades of experience as a reporter to share insights with St. John’s students pursuing journalism and related degrees during an academic forum on April 24 at the Queens, NY, campus.

The event, entitled “The Press and Presidential Politics,” focused on media coverage of and political issues related to the first 100 days of Donald Trump's administration. Mr. Klein told the audience of approximately 100 students that his interest in politics began in grade school.

“When I was about 12 years old,” he said, “I recall sitting on the floor of my parents’ bedroom, coloring in the electoral map as election returns were coming in. I didn’t understand anything broader about politics at the time—just a winner and a loser, similar to how I viewed sports as a kid.”

In college, Mr. Klein wrote for The Daily Princetonian, the award-winning independent student newspaper of Princeton University. He says he saw firsthand the impact his stories could have. “When you write for your college newspaper,” he said, “your byline means something.”

In his role as Political Director at ABC, Mr. Klein leads the network's political coverage and planning and serves as an on-air political analyst across ABC News platforms. He contributes stories and analyses to all ABC News broadcasts, including Good Morning America and World News Tonight with David Muir. Mr. Klein also provides regular political commentary and analysis for ABC News Radio, ABC News digital and live-streaming programs, and NewsOne, the network's affiliate news service.

“I’ve never seen engagement in journalism on behalf of news consumers like this,” he said. “During the campaign, Donald Trump knocked off 17 other candidates, and people nationwide would turn on the television or look to social media just to see what he would say next.  There is nothing in American history that even comes close to how big of an upset his win was.”

“It’s important for students to hear directly from journalists on the front lines of political news coverage,” noted Michael Rizzo, Assistant Professor and Director of the Journalism Program at St. John’s, who arranged Mr. Klein’s appearance. “It helps them to better understand the realities of the work journalists need to do in today’s world.”

Professor Rizzo, who covered former President Obama’s 2009 inauguration with Mr. Klein when they both worked at ABC News, moderated the event. Mr. Klein took students’ questions after presenting his observations. Angela Kellett ’18CPS, a dual major in journalism and government and politics, asked him about the amount of information coming out of the Trump White House—and  how journalists decide what to cover and what to filter out.

“At ABC News, we expect you to get context,” Mr. Klein said. “There are literally thousands of outlets reporting the same things about President Trump each day, so it’s our job to do great work. Not just on what we report, but by providing a bigger picture of why the story matters.”

For Marcus Barbosa ’20CPS, a sport management major, the event provided an inside look at broadcast journalism. “It’s a unique opportunity for us, as students, to hear from someone of Rick Klein’s stature,” he said. “You don’t always have a chance to learn from one of the most successful people in the business.”

“One thing I tell aspiring journalists all the time,” said Mr. Klein, “is that you have to be willing to reach people however they want to be reached. A generation ago, you could be a television reporter or a writer for a newspaper and just do your job. Today, you have to do a little bit of everything.”