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Hannah Wiley (MSJ18)

State Politics Reporter at The Sacramento Bee

Hannah Wiley headshot.

Despite starting her professional career as an English teacher with Teach for America, Hannah Wiley (MSJ18) knew she wanted to be a reporter. Political reporting was her major at Saint Louis University, and after a few years of teaching, Wiley decided to come to Medill to earn a graduate degree in journalism and focus on investigative reporting.

During her quarter in Washington, D.C., Wiley found her knack for political reporting, leading to a promising start to her journalism career.

Tell me about your career path. How did you get where you are today?

My time teaching in Nashville made me a more empathic, reflective, creative and passionate reporter.

It's because of my students that I applied to the investigative reporting track at Medill. It was during my final quarter in D.C. that I hit my stride and discovered my knack for political reporting. It was a magical experience to be in our nation's capital, reporting on Congress and at the White House and State Department. Those stories landed me a coveted fellowship at the Texas Tribune, which helped shape my portfolio to earn a spot at the Sacramento Bee's Capitol Bureau.

What are your main responsibilities as a state politics reporter at The Sacramento Bee?

I cover the legislature and state agencies. This means I'm responsible for tracking a list of bills and their implications, ranging from education to criminal justice to housing and homelessness. I'm also tasked with covering the 120 legislators who write these laws and the power dynamics at play in the Capitol.

How has your Medill training helped you in your career so far? 

I think it was less about what I learned in the classroom and more about who I met as a Medill student. And I'm not just talking about the brilliant professors and some of my incredible classmates. I'm talking about my sources, the people I interviewed in Chicago and D.C. who opened an entire world for me to learn about and report on.

What is a class or experience that sticks out in your mind and why?

I traveled in 2018 to Puerto Rico through the Medill Explores class, just months after Hurricane Maria devastated the island. The group I went with was fantastic—so many are doing incredible work in journalism now—and I loved traveling with esteemed Chicago reporters and faculty members Kari Lydersen and Bill Healy.

I knew I wanted to report on how school closures in the aftermath of Maria were affecting families in certain parts of the island. I stumbled across two schools while taking a solo walk one day in a San Juan neighborhood, and saw firsthand how challenging it was for the teachers and students to be instructing and learning in buildings half demolished by the storm.

The faculty and I knew that I wouldn't be able to complete the story before the trip ended, so I applied for a Medill Social Justice reporting grant. I went back to the island a month later by myself and traveled up and down and across the island, meeting with teachers and families whose schools were shut down by the Department of Education. I wrote my first freelance piece. The story paid for the travel, so I made no money off the work. But what a feeling!

How has the Medill network helped you in your career?

The network of alumni have been so encouraging and helpful in my journalism career. Especially in D.C., I was meeting with people every week over coffee and lunches to talk about the industry. Now, many of them are my colleagues and friends. And I'll forever appreciate a core group of classmates who loved this industry as much as I did and whose work inspires me more than ever. I hope to be their coworker one day!

What advice would you give to someone considering Medill MSJ?

The coursework and classes are only a fraction of what you should be completing as a graduate student. Get out there and network, freelance, apply for reporting grants. Set a goal to schedule one call or coffee meeting with someone in the industry whom you admire. Craft a list of ideas and pitches to outlets that you think would be a good fit for your stories. Talk with your professors about their career path, and what decisions they made along the way to land them in the spots that you'd want to fill one day.

Remember - it's a competitive industry and while the degree is attractive, you're entitled to nothing once you graduate. Fighting for the truth is hard, exhausting work. But it's so rewarding, and more important than ever. Don't give up!

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