by Charlotte Carroll

For 10 Department of Journalism students on spring break in Washington, D.C., the question at the end of each stop was the same.

“Have you seen the cherry blossoms yet?”

By the final day of the trip, students had come to expect the question as a parting goodbye.  But while the seasonal timing of the flowers added to the atmosphere, the students touring media outlets used their experiences in D.C. to make connections and develop new interests.

“Going on this trip changed a lot of things for me,” University of Illinois junior Naya Crittenden said. “I wasn't sure where I wanted to focus in journalism.   I am torn between entertainment, sports, and politics. Going to D.C. for the first time was simply amazing, and I'm in love with the District now.”

Walking close to 10 miles on each of the three days, students received behind-the-scenes tours of the Capitol and the Pentagon, while also touring historic media sites such as The Washington Post and NPR.

Journalism lecturer John Paul led the trip. The Department of Journalism has been taking similar media trips to New York for several years.

“This adventure offered terrific job and intern opportunities for the students to connect with Washington area alumni and to see D.C. journalists at work,” Paul said.  “You just can’t read about experience like this in a book or online.  You have to see it first-hand.”

After students arrived, the group met with the staff of U.S. Rep Rodney Davis, R-Ill., in his Capitol Hill office. Among other things, they learned how to apply for Capitol Hill press internships. They also received a Capitol tour from one of Davis’ interns that included highlights such as the tunnel connecting offices, the Rotunda and the so-called “whispering gallery,” the National Statuary Hall.

Students spent the evening walking around the Washington Mall before grabbing dinner and resting for the packed day ahead.

Students started their next day with a tour of the brand new offices of The Washington Post. Deputy Managing Editor Tracy Grant allowed the group to sit in on a Post news planning meeting.

“Being able to witness the dynamics between the writers and editors helped set it apart from the other news outlets,” freshman Jess Peterson said. “It was also encouraging and slightly intimidating to learn about how all multimedia platforms are being used in what has been a newspaper first and foremost.”

At the end of the tour, Grant gave each student a copy of the biography by former Post owner Katharine Graham. 

Later that morning, the group headed to other sites, including the Eisenhower Executive Office Building adjacent to the White House.  They got close to the White House and the famous West Wing. At the Executive Office building, they met the social media staff for @potus and @whitehouse.

After a stop at Politico that featured a picturesque balcony view of the city, students finished the business aspect of the day with a two-hour personal tour of the Pentagon. Students saw the media briefing room that was used the next day for a press conference and also paid respects at the 9/11 Memorial Chapel dedicated to the 184 people who died.  At the Pentagon, they had a brief conversation with NBC News Pentagon correspondent Jim Miklaszewski.

Late that afternoon, some students made the trek to the Tidal Basin to see the famed cherry blossoms at their peak. That was followed with a networking event at Chinatown pizza hotspot, Matchbox.

Here the group got to chat with Illinois alumni working in the D.C. area for outlets such as National Geographic, NPR, Chronicle of Higher Education, and ABC News.

“Speaking with the U of I alumni provided insight into a hopeful ‘future me,’” sophomore Shani Benezra said. “I felt this most with Molly Nagle from ABC News. It was relieving to get advice from someone who didn’t write for The Daily Illini but instead focused on gaining hands-on experience through internships during her time as a student.”

The final day, students traveled to DuPont Circle to see the inner workings of the Chronicle of Higher Education. Afterward, stops were made at Sirius XM and finally NPR before breaking off to depart.

“The blending of editorial and broadcast in that outlet (NPR) was awesome to see,” Peterson said. “Sitting in the studios and being able to hold an Emmy from Tiny Desk provided a behind-the-scenes element that usually isn’t included with one’s favorite podcast.”

Overall, students were impressed with the trip’s schedule and variety, which introduced them to a different side of journalism.

Blending time to see the sights with media networking, the packed schedule gave students a chance to see the value of an Illinois education.

“They made me realize that my dream of becoming a journalist is possible,” junior Mikayla Johnson said. “Seeing Illini just like me working at places like the Post or NPR gave me the confidence that someday that could be me.”

View photos from the trip