NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ - As Carrie Budoff Brown prepares to take over as editor of Politico, a news organization that has been at the forefront the online reporting revolution, she can trace the roots of her success in journalism back to her time at Rutgers.
During her junior year, Brown was getting ready to spend a semester in Argentina when she went on an assignment for The Daily Targum to cover a Bill Clinton rally during his 1996 reelection campaign.
While waiting in the press area she struck up a conversation with the intern for The New York Times, who was soon leaving her job. The intern encouraged Brown to apply for the position. It turned out, the Trenton bureau chief preferred to hire interns from state schools to give them a special opportunity, Brown said.
It was a pivotal moment for Brown. She caught her father on his way to mail in the deposit for her trip and canceled her plans to study abroad. She was awarded the internship and worked at The New York Times in Trenton for a year and a half writing for the now defunct New Jersey Sunday section.
‘’It happened by chance. but it was a wonderful opportunity that opened other doors,’’ said Brown, a 1998 Rutgers graduate. “It was a training-ship and I felt very lucky to do it.’’
Brown didn’t come to Rutgers to study journalism. She grew up in York, Pennsylvania, with parents who were always watching the news and reading newspapers. She was interested in current events but thought she wanted to pursue a career in law. One day in high school she ended up shadowing an attorney who was young and miserable, and hated what he did.
Soon afterwards she was offered an internship at The York Daily Record through a connection she made with a local reporter while writing for her high school newspaper.
“I went into the newsroom of the Daily Record and there were all these young people in their 20s and they all loved being there and loved what they were doing,’’ Brown said. “It was so interesting and fun, and I thought this was a place where people liked what they were doing in contrast with the lawyer who was miserable.’’
But she still wasn’t settled on studying journalism. Brown chose Rutgers, where both her father and sister had gone to school, for its political science department and its location.
“It was between New York and Philadelphia and it was a more urban metropolitan area than I grew up in,’’ Brown said. “I got opportunities at Rutgers I don’t think I would have gotten if I chose any other school.’’
She joined The Targum because she enjoyed reporting which brought her to the moment she finally settled on journalism as a career. She attended an event for student journalists at the White House and made news when she questioned President Clinton about the effect that his Don’t Ask Don’t Tell policy, which prevented gay men and women from serving openly in the military, was having on college ROTC chapters.
At first, Clinton told her she misunderstood the policy. Brown was mortified and thought she was through with journalism forever.
But after the press conference, Clinton spoke to Brown and apologized. He admitted he didn’t understand her question and may have answered incorrectly. Other reporters wrote stories about their exchange.
“On the way home people told me I stumped him, I got the president to say something, and that is what journalism is,’’ Brown said. “I thought this is cool, you can ask the president of the United States a question and he is forced to answer you and it has an impact.”
A few years after graduation, Brown started working at the Philadelphia Inquirer, where she got her first taste of writing for the web.
In 2006, she covered a recount for a Pennsylvania House of Representatives seat that would determine the balance of power in the state government. She decided to write a blog and was surprised by the response.
“It showed me the power of web-based journalism, that waiting until morning to publish something is ridiculous,’’ Brown said. “It’s more satisfying to tell people the news in real time. It’s addictive.’’
The experience showed her the direction journalism was headed and inspired her to pursue a job at Politico when the website launched in 2007.
“I knew because I had this real-life experience that the idea of waiting 12-hours to publish something was not going to last and there was a wide open space to jump into and do journalism that was fast and fun and connected to people,’’ Brown said.
At Politico, Brown covered the fight over Obamacare and became a Twitter sensation overseas when she posted never-before-seen pictures of King Abdullah and the royal palace during a trip to Saudi Arabia with President Obama. She gained thousands of new Twitter followers in a matter of hours because she had access in a country where the release of information is tightly controlled.
“I didn’t realize at the time that Saudi Arabia has the highest penetration of Twitter users in the world,’’ Brown said. “People were writing stories about me and people were coming to my hotel to try to find me. It was an amazing and strange experience into the power of social media.’’
In 2014, Brown moved to Brussels to launch Politico’s European newsroom and guided coverage of Great Britain’s vote to leave the European Union. She was recently tapped to take over the helm of the groundbreaking news organization starting after the Nov. 8 election.
She said the lessons she learned at Rutgers continue to guide her career choices and decision to stay in the news business.
“I’ve thought about leaving journalism many times but think I would never have any other job where I would have as much flexibility and work around people who are very smart and engaged and invested in the idea that journalism is important,’’ Brown said.
“I learned that over my years at Rutgers because of all the opportunities I got while I was there and afterwards,’’ she said.