Alumnus of the Month – September 2017

 Byron Tau (G ’12)

Twitter/Instagram: @byrontau

LinkedIn: Byron Tau 

“In journalism, hustle beats smarts every time. Doesn’t matter how smart or writerly you are. As a reporter, the more calls you make, the more you expand your base of sources, the more hours you put into it, the better you are going to be.”

Current Job Title: Reporter with The Wall Street Journal

How did you get this job? I was covering lobbying and campaign finance at Politico and I saw an open job at the WSJ on the same beat. I applied, didn’t hear back and had almost forgotten about the application when I got a call out of the blue from the D.C. bureau chief several months later asking me if I was interested in covering politics and the White House for the WSJ. I made the jump.

How long have you been there? I left my job at Politico the day after the 2014 midterm election and have been at the WSJ ever since.

What are your job responsibilities? I cover Congress. Most of my energy these days is focused on the intelligence committees and the ongoing Russia investigation, but I also pitch in on the rest of our policy and politics coverage as it relates to what Congress is doing (or, more often, not doing.)

Please give us your “elevator speech” about the jobs you’ve held and what you’ve done to get to where you are now: Ben Smith, who is now at BuzzFeed, plucked me from behind the bar at the Cheesecake Factory and hired me to be his researcher at Politico. These days, I’m a reporter who has covered politics from lots of angles — I cut my teeth writing about local D.C. politics and have covered Congress, the White House, campaign finance, presidential and midterm elections and lobbying.  

Why did you choose to attend Georgetown’s Journalism program? I packed up and drove to D.C. in 2008 knowing almost nobody, having no professional connections and with only a vague sense that I wanted to work in politics and journalism. A few internships and temp jobs later, I figured out that I wanted to be a reporter. Georgetown offered me a chance to go to school on a flexible schedule, and more importantly, gave me a lot of exposure to real working journalists or people that would soon become working journalists.

How has your degree from the Journalism program helped you in your current job? It made me a stronger writer, it exposed me to working journalists, it taught me a lot about how to use social media reporting and most importantly, it helped build a professional network of people in editing and writing jobs all over D.C.

What is the class that you took at Georgetown that helped the most after you graduated? When I started in the program in 2008, journalism was in the middle of a major crisis. Along with the stress of the great recession, classified advertising was really drying up. Several classes at Georgetown taught me the economics of the business, which is something that most reporters don’t think about day to day. 

What one piece of advice would you give current students? In journalism, hustle beats smarts every time. Doesn’t matter how smart or writerly you are. As a reporter, the more calls you make, the more you expand your base of sources, the more hours you put into it, the better you are going to be. 

If you could go back on your capstone class, what is the greatest challenge you had and how did you overcome it? At the time, I had a full-time job at Politico, so time-management and avoiding procrastination were major challenges. But there’s nothing like a looming deadline to get you working. (This is terrible advice, I know…. but that’s how it is in the working world. Nothing will motivate you like a deadline)

What do you think is the biggest challenge facing journalists now? I think the biggest challenge for reporters, especially political reporters, is filtering out what are important stories and trends from what is frivolous nonsense that is dominating the Internet in any given hour. The web and social media have their advantage and charms, but too often what people are talking about online is something dumb that will be totally forgotten tomorrow. It’s important to keep an eye on the big picture, the big trends and the big stories.

What’s the most memorable piece you’ve published and why? This makes me feel sorta bad because we were basically riffing through his stolen emails, but I published a piece about how John Podesta and the Blink 182 singer were collaborating on a project related to the truth about UFOs that got more readers that probably anything I’ve ever written at the WSJ. 

What surprised you most about journalism/communications and working in the real world? I guess what’s most surprising is that with all the so-called changes in journalism, it hasn’t changed all that much from 50 or 100 years ago. A handful of news outlets are still responsible for the vast majority of newsgathering in the world and they’re the same ones that were doing it 50 years ago: the TV networks, the big newspapers, the wire services. The big trends are the rise of cable, the sad decline of local news (especially local newspapers) and the rise of speciality press (trade publications, industry news, etc). But when it comes to who breaks all the news, who does the news-gathering and what makes a good story, the web hasn’t really changed much. 

What do you do for fun? I took up running and chess in the last year. I’ve made it a priority to read a lot books this year. I’m trying to watch more TV. I just finished the old Twin Peaks and now I’m in the middle of this Israeli show called “Fauda” which is a gripping terrorism drama. I try to enjoy as much of life in D.C. — going out, seeing friends, enjoying the restaurants and the parks and the bars. 

Where do you see yourself in five years?  I would love to move in a more investigative direction — work on a small number of high impact stories involving documents. Either that, or write a nonfiction book or two. Maybe in the next five years!

Thanks Byron!