By Christina Cauterucci (C’10)
Photo by Mitch Peyser (MBA ’93)
Georgetown alumni are no strangers to the only-in-D.C. opportunities that come with our extensive web of local connections. From Gaston Hall speakers to the alumni career network, we have unique access to some of the world’s most influential leaders of government, culture and business.
Still, when I got an invitation to CNN’s Capitol Hill headquarters for a GEMA DC breakfast with John King USA Executive Producer Michelle Jaconi (F’96, G’97), I was impressed. Jaconi has enjoyed a long, successful career in broadcast media, including a formative stint at her hero Tim Russert’s Meet the Press, and I was excited to learn that she’d made time in her 24-hour-news-cycle schedule to show a group of Hoyas around the office.
On the sunny morning of September 30, gathered around a CNN conference table that bore a single red telephone—ready to ring at the advent of any breaking news—16 Georgetown students and alumni discussed the future of broadcast journalism and listened to Jaconi’s seasoned take on the challenges of producing daily political programming.
“CNN reminds me a lot of Georgetown,” opened Jaconi with a smile. “We’re trying to change the world, but always with an eye to business and professionalism.”
Jaconi credited Georgetown’s Jesuit ethos with helping her manage the high-stress political atmosphere of D.C. “I think about cura personalis—I try to feed my mind, body and spirit every day,” she said.
In fact, it was a mutual history of Jesuit education that endeared Jaconi to Russert during her interview for a job at Meet the Press. “The Jesuits taught me that any belief questioned is a stronger one,” she told him. “I don’t have all the answers, but I love searching for them.”
This search led Jaconi’s team across every state in the country to document the 2008 presidential race from a wide range of geographic perspectives. Jaconi surrounds herself with employees of different viewpoints to bolster her show’s neutrality.
Though Jaconi acknowledged social media’s threat to broadcasting—“it rewards surface thinking and surface understanding”—she’s optimistic about the future of CNN, particularly the network’s citizen journalism initiative, iReport. “People said iReport was risky, because we’re letting everyday people define the CNN brand,” Jaconi said. “But we now have an iReporter in every single country, and we get more videos than any other site but YouTube.”
GEMA DC Director Jody Arlington (C’93) joined Mitch Peyser (MBA’93), who organized the breakfast, in facilitating connections among the diverse cross-section of Hoyas at the event. Public relations professionals poured coffee for MBA candidates, social media-savvy alumni mingled with undergraduate English majors, and alumni of all ages compared notes on Georgetown’s changing landscape.
To the alumni who expressed interest in pursuing careers in journalism, Jaconi stressed the importance of tenacity and hard work, but added, “Media is a dysfunctional business—there’s no right way in. Your career might make sense when you look back on it, but it’ll almost never make sense looking ahead.”