Q&A | #HerStory
#HerStory Q&A with Susan Page
In our latest #HerStory interview we meet Susan Page, DC bureau chief for USA Today. In this interview, Susan discusses how she uses Twitter to report the news, and why no day is the same when it comes to reporting politics.
As a journalist you’ve covered numerous administrations and elections, interviewing multiple presidents. When did your passion for journalism take root?
Well, I worked first for my junior high school newspaper in Wichita, Kansas, and then for my high school paper, The Stampede, at Wichita Southeast High School. I had a big personal crisis when I was a senior in high school because I could not decide — and this is the truth — between pursuing journalism or becoming a professional oboe player. I'm sure people are laughing all across America, but I started playing the oboe when I was in the third grade, I was very serious about becoming a professional oboist, and you would go to very different schools for those two careers, so this was something I really anguished over. I chose journalism, and since I made that decision in high school I've never actually wanted to do anything else. I feel so incredibly lucky to do something I think is important and interesting and fulfilling and funny and great.
Now we're going to switch gears and talk about what it's like to be a female journalist — what advice do you have for other female journalists?
My advice for young women I meet with who are interested in journalism is the same. It's just say yes — if you've got an opportunity, take it. If someone's looking for a volunteer, raise your hand. I think women in particular sometimes don't do that, because they think they're not quite prepared, or somebody else is better prepared, or that they just don't feel competent to do it. You are smarter and more capable and tougher than you think you are. So prove it to yourself. And also, what is the worst thing that could happen? The worst thing that could happen is you'll fail. And if you fail, you'll learn something from it. You'll get yourself back up. You'll try again.
What do you think needs to change within the news industry to make sure female journalists are front and center?
I think one of the biggest changes I've seen in the decades I've worked as a journalist is that there are more women in charge. When I was a young reporter, I was often the only woman at the news conference, the only woman on the campaign bus, one of very few women in the White House press corps.
When you have women who are editors and publishers, the anchors of newscasts, or the head of journalism schools, it makes a huge difference for the women who are at an earlier stage in their career, in terms of being able to do things and being trusted to do things and feeling empowered to do things. So I think having women in power has made a huge difference. And that needs to happen even more.
So what's an average day like for you?
There is no average day. I mean, most of my career I've covered the White House, and there's certainly no average day at any White House. And man, that is doubly true in a White House with President Trump in it.
The news cycle is all over the place. I know there are careers where you could say, here's what I'll be doing next Wednesday, but with journalism, you cannot say what you'll be doing an hour and a half from now. The [press] briefing gave a structure to a day at the White House. It wasn't the be-all and end-all of getting information, but it did provide a kind of framework, and we don't have that anymore because Trump is his own spokesman.
So tell us, how do you use Twitter?
I check Twitter 157,000 times a day. I was skeptical when I first heard about it, and now I rely on it every day. Let's take yesterday; yesterday, I did a story and analysis for USA Today about the president's Tweets to four freshmen women congresspeople, telling them if they have criticism of the United States, they should go back where they came from. I was working on this in the office, but I had Twitter up because that was where I was monitoring what Republicans were saying about this.
I found Twitter useful because, number one, some Republican members of Congress used Twitter to make statements. But also, reporters covering the story were noticing when they got Republican members of Congress to make a comment. So it was incredibly useful, in real time, to keep track of the story that I was trying to write. And I do that all the time.
If I'm on a plane that doesn't have Wi-Fi, when we land the first thing I do is look at my email quickly and look at Twitter to see what's happened while we were in the air. It's like a wire service for journalists. It's like what the AP and UPI once were for journalists, a way to keep up to date on what's going on — it's invaluable. And it's the way we see so many politicians now communicate with not just reporters, but constituents in the world.
What have been some of your favorite hashtags or movements?
Well, I'm a sucker for cat videos. But I think my favorite is when there's an amateur video shot by someone who's been serving in Afghanistan or Iraq or elsewhere, someone in uniform, who comes back and surprises their kids at school, and they don't know they're going to be there or that their parent is coming home. I mean, I can watch that over and over again, on a bad day, and it makes you feel okay.
Who are some of your favorite female journalists to follow on the platform?
Maggie Haberman, from The New York Times, is an incredible reporter crucial to understanding President Trump. Karen Tumulty of The Washington Post — she's terrific. Shawna Thomas of Vice, she's also terrific. Andrea Mitchell, I have so much respect for Andrea. Yamiche Alcindor from “PBS NewsHour,” she and I had previously worked together at USA Today before she went to The Times and then to “NewsHour.” You know, I think Norah O'Donnell is terrific, and does have a very interesting use of Twitter, covering a broad range of topics, not just politics. Seung Min Kim of The Washington Post — she was an intern for us at USA Today and she's doing a great job on Congress in the White House. Sue Davis at NPR, also a former USA Today colleague. Maybe just one more: Kelly O'Donnell of NBC. These are all women that I follow, and when I'm landing on a plane and I want to catch up on what's going on, I know I can trust them if they say something happened.
Lastly, if we could fulfill a wish list of features for Twitter, what would be on your list?
If I had a wish list for Twitter, it would be to find a way to generate a somewhat more civil conversation. You know, I know people feel passionately about everything these days, and that's great, but I wish we could listen to each other with a little more civility.
Check out more from #HerStory, Twitter’s original video series, highlighting the work and personal stories of female journalists from around the world.