March 22, 2012
/ by Kevin Miller
Capitol Hill is not only a large neighborhood, but also serves as the heart of the United States Congress, and with that comes a 24-hour news cycle that keeps journalists on their toes jumping for new leads, manifold angles on current trends, and the most recent news on national and international issues as they relate to the United States Government and the nation as a whole. Understanding the inner workings between Congress, the White House and Lobbyists is key to the area, the country and the public. Publications like The Hill get right into the details of the matter to keep the nation abreast of the latest topics and breaking news.
The Hill also focuses on the neighborhoods surrounding the politics of Capitol Hill—including book and restaurant reviews in addition to a weekly neighborhood column— but the spotlight is primarily on the weights and demands put on the nation’s lawmakers and Government. This includes U.S. Defense and National Security policy, a beat that has become second nature for newly appointed writer Carlo Munoz, who has covered the topic for the past six years.
The best part of being on “the Hill” for Munoz is the sense that he is in the middle of everything. “Whatever is dominating the news cycle that day or week, you’ll probably find yourself chasing a congressional angle on it,” he said.
His beat hasn’t wavered, especially with his most recent transition from deputy editor at AOL Defense to staff writer at The Hill, where he can utilize his solid background in policy, budget, military, warfare and intelligence, among other topics, on a 24-hour basis.
“There are so many reporters chasing so many things, even just on defense alone, that you have to be fast and accurate to keep pace.”
Munoz’s coverage ranges from the rebel uprising in Syria to the threat of a nuclear Iran and the war in Afghanistan. Even with a strong familiarity in all topics military and defense-related, Munoz thinks Capitol Hill is an “animal all in its own.”
“Moving to a position covering Congress full -time meant learning those particular rhythms and nuances specific to Capitol Hill. Now I did have the benefit of experiencing that, to a certain degree, while at Inside Washington and later at AOL Defense. That did ease the transition tremendously. But learning those finer points about the Capitol Hill beat is something I’m continuing to master.”
At The Hill, Munoz feels that the journalism they provide for their readers is a public service and that what they’re doing benefits society. He was “brought up in the ‘watchdog journalism’ school of thought,” he said, where journalists shed light on the issues and subjects in need, in this case Defense and National Security.
“We made sure the things that were designed to protect or benefit society do just that. And we point out to great effect when those institutions do not. Idealistic? Sure. But that’s what I believe. There’s a reason why the alter egos of Superman and Spiderman were journalists.”
One of Munoz’s major influences came from his professor at Ohio Wesleyan University, Jim Underwood, a former Marine in the Vietnam War who provided the experience of a watchdog reporter for the Cleveland Plain Dealer and Newark Advocate, among other newspapers.
“[Professor Underwood] taught us the theory of being a journalist, but spent more time telling us how and why being one mattered. That was the message I got from each and every one of his journalist ‘war stories’. He was the kind of journalist that I, back then as an undergrad, wanted to be and still aspire to be today.”
Although Munoz eventually wants to get more field-work, there have been a myriad of opportunities for him to delve into a topic he has fluency in.
Munoz regularly uses Twitter, Facebook and other social media outlets in his position at The Hill, and had used them even more frequently during his previous role with AOL Defense. He says that journalists live and die by their deadlines, and with social media those deadlines have shrunken from hours to minutes, and even seconds.
“Journalists used to live and die by the phrase ‘write tight’. But now instead of a few column inches we get 140 characters to try and tell a story. But again the size and scope of the audience reached by social medial outrivals any other media modes we have ever had. And that is remarkable.”
He said that he was lucky to get a start in journalism in “an old ink-and-press newspaper” and came into the business when social media was taking its roots and “Twitter [and] news blogs were just coming into vogue.” During that time, Munoz has seen the landscape for media change quickly and considerably, seeing the news become faster and more engaging for the individual reader, including the widespread use of multimedia in reporting.
“Multimedia just enhances the experience of the news. You now can not only read or watch a piece, but see a slideshow of the events and hear the actual people involved telling you what happened in a podcast or streaming video. Also new media has allowed access to places traditional journalism could not go or have to spend days or weeks getting there. Cell phone clips of bombings in Syria are beamed worldwide at the press of a button without the need of a correspondent on the ground.”
The story can now be more immediately accessible and comprehensive in a shorter period of time thanks to the advances of the media; however the information still must be as reliable as ever before, with such a large audience.
“[Basic] rules still apply. You have to get the story [and] facts right before throwing it up on YouTube or Twitter—and if there is a danger of new media, it is that.”
From a double-major in journalism and politics at Ohio Wesleyan University – an M.P.S. in journalism at Georgetown University in between – to a staff writer position covering Defense and National Security at The Hill, Munoz has covered all facets and branches of the government and has found a specialty in his beat, one that he has genuine interest and investment in and one that he hones like a fine talent.
“You get attuned to it in a way, as any reporter will tell you about any beat,” he said. “Long-term, I’d like to be a defense reporter for The Hill for as long as they will have me.”
Munoz said that pitching should be hyper-specific to his beat.
“I want a good story. Not a story that’s being sold to me because it’s part of some advertising campaign. Tell me what the news is and why it needs to be told. If I’m convinced on those two things, you have my attention,” he said.
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