Next up in our #HerStory series is Seung Min Kim, a White House reporter for The Washington Post. In this interview she shares how her experiences as a female journalist of color have shaped her reporting, and the women she follows to stay on top of the news cycle.
You’ve been a political reporter in Washington DC for over ten years – how did you get started in journalism?
I grew up in Iowa, so I'm a proud Midwesterner. I've wanted to be a reporter since I was 12 years old, I can't really imagine any other career that I would have seriously thought about or pursued. My first job was at my college paper, The Daily Iowan. Since they gave me a scholarship to work there, they allowed me to start working the summer before I officially enrolled as a freshman. So the first story I ever wrote was about a local Applebee's and how they were recovering after a customer found a severed lizard head inside a chicken salad. So I had to deal with an Applebee's that did not want to comment too much on that. [laughs]
What’s it like being a female journalist, and female journalist of color, within the political space? I think generally speaking, especially being a woman on Capitol Hill, there really is a solidarity among female reporters. I also think that being Asian American, I tend to get interested in different stories that aren't being told, especially in politics. I remember a few years ago, I was reading all these stories about senate campaigns. There were a lot of stories written about the influence of the black vote in a certain state campaign or, you know, the Latino vote. And I thought, “you know, no one's really reading about the Asian American vote.” And that was getting me a little bit frustrated and I thought, “well, I could just do it.”
Because of my upbringing, my background, who I am, I've naturally gravitated to certain stories that other people who don't have my similar heritage and background aren't interested in. That’s why diversity in so many respects is just so important to our jobs, because we see stories that other people may not necessarily see right away, and we read about it. And those stories need to be told.
What does an average day look like in your role as a White House reporter?
A lot of times it begins with my phone buzzing because the President has Tweeted. You know, a lot of times he tweets things that are not news, but very often they are news and really set the tone for the rest of our day. From then on, it's kind of figuring out what my response to that – what storylines I want to pursue that day.
Sometimes the story is obvious, and we've been planning for it, or it's not and something pops up out of nowhere, usually comments or an action prompted by the president, and leaves all of us scrambling to figure out what has happened. So every day can be different, every day certainly is unpredictable. And a lot of it really is driven by what the president is saying what the president is Tweeting and how that really affects Capitol Hill, and the people there. Do you have any advice for fellow female journalists, or those wishing to enter the field?
Don't be timid. And don't be shy. And don't hesitate, because that's something that I’ve gone through a lot, whether it's being concerned that my store ideas weren't as smart as the other reporters in the room, or maybe thinking that, you know, you're in a gaggle on Capitol Hill and maybe your question isn't as smart as some of the others in the room.
Try to get over that hesitation – the grinding self critique that we can have of ourselves sometimes – and be fearless. It's hard. It's something that I have to remind myself of every day. But it's just something that you just have to instill in your own head.
What do you think needs to be done in the news industry to ensure that female journalists are front and center?
I think it really starts with recruitment at all levels, whether it's encouraging young females to pursue a journalism path – particularly in journalism areas where women still do tend to be underrepresented, such as politics, sports, or even investigative journalism – and just cultivating women at every step of the way. So it's not only starting people young, but also seeking out early the female reporters who want to be in management someday, and be editors, because putting female storytellers out front also has a lot to do with putting women in management at the highest levels of management in a newsroom.
In terms of using Twitter to report the news, what have some of your biggest scoops on the platform been?
A recent favorite scoop that we were able to promote on Twitter is during the fight over the government shutdown and the emergency declaration. My colleague from The Washington Post and I were able to break a slightly ridiculous – but turned out to be true – story about three Republican senators who essentially crashed President Trump's dinner with Melania to essentially try to persuade him away from declaring an emergency for the border wall. I think people are always looking for anything new, anything fresh, but also just interesting and sometimes odd stories, like that.
I find Twitter is a really great way to just enhance your reporting and the information you're able to put out there, beyond your own articles. And also just to give everyone who is so intimately interested in something that's going on on Capitol Hill, or at the White House, the minute by minute play.
Who are your top five female journalists to follow on Twitter?
My two fellow female colleagues on the Washington Post White House team, Ashley Parker and Anne Gearan. They are both very smart, witty women who are excellent reporters, very generous about sharing other people's reporting, very smart with their analyses on Twitter, and also just very funny women. One female journalist that I particularly like is Lisa Desjardins of PBS NewsHour. I find her Twitter feed so helpful, and I think others would too, if you're a nerd and interested in Congress and interested in what a bill actually says, because she will read it, and she will Tweet out details of the bill. Sometimes those very heavy details can get lost in a story but it's eminently readable on Twitter.
Another great example of a female journalist who uses Twitter really well is Zoe Tillman of Buzzfeed. She covers legal issues, and always post copies and screen grabs of the actual legal filing, so she is able to write a quick synopsis – in a few characters – of what this means, but also show us the legal filing, so we can read it for ourselves, which I find really, really helpful and a smart use of Twitter. And I also love Ariel Edwards-Levy, of the Huffington Post. She's their polling analyst, very smart and very understanding of the polling world, which is so important right now, but also probably the funniest person on Twitter.