Q&A with Eric Garcia, reporter at Roll Call

Eric Garcia is a staff writer at Roll Call in Washington, D.C. He previously worked at National Journal. In this interview, conducted by email, Garcia discusses his job, journalism education and his recent article about living and working with autism.

Q. Describe your job at Roll Call. What is your typical day like?

A. I am on the political team, which is to say I cover campaigns on the presidential, Senate and House level.

That usually means just scrolling around for story ideas either through social media, reading other media outlets, going through FEC docs or talking to sources (which is something I am getting better at doing). If I come up with an idea or my editor does, then I usually jump on that idea and start reporting.

Q. How do story editing and headline writing work at Roll Call?

A. Typically once you finish a story, you file it to your editor, and they make any changes or ask you about anything you are unclear about.

What’s interesting about Roll Call is we typically write a normal headline and an SEO-friendly one, so that has definitely made me more conscious of how to write headlines for online. I always try to make sure to include search-friendly words or a candidate’s name in a headline so it’s better for people to search, especially if it’s a story about someone like Bernie Sanders or Donald Trump, both of whom guaranteed to be more viral online. When I was at National Journal, I wrote mostly for online, so SEO-headlines were also extremely important.

Q. You recently shared about your experiences with autism. What inspired you to write about that article, and what was the reaction to it?

A. I kind of fell into writing the magazine story by a series of coincidental events. I was at a party and made an offhand comment about being on the spectrum, and a friend said something to the effect of I should write a story about being a journalist on the spectrum. I thought that’d be a cool story but felt I’d file it away until I got better as a journalist.

Then, when National Journal announced it was shutting down its print edition magazine at the end of last year, I tossed the idea around with the magazine editor, Richard Just, and he said he wanted it for the print edition.

I honestly did not expect the reaction I got, which was largely positive. I heard a lot from families of people with someone on the spectrum or even people I knew who said they had a loved one on the spectrum.

I have also met and spoken with a few people on the spectrum or with other disabilities who live and work in D.C. or elsewhere who are trying to live fulfilling lives, and that has been extremely satisfying. I love talking with people about their own individual experiences, but at the same time, I have noticed there are so many common strains among people on the spectrum.

Q. You graduated from the journalism school at UNC-Chapel Hill in 2014. What skills and concepts did you learn there that you use in your job now? What have you learned since then?

A. Honestly, I still use a lot of the skills I learned both at the j-school and when I was at The Daily Tar Heel, which might as well have been a class in and of itself.

I took Paul O’Connor’s reporting class the semester that students reported on the N.C. General Assembly, and I really cut my teeth as a reporter that way. I learned how to talk to legislators, lobbyists and other people who influence policy. That came in handy when it came to reporting on members of Congress or candidates on the national level.

Ferrel Guillory taught me a lot about how to come up with story ideas or look at the news critically. I could not have written the magazine story on autism had it not been for taking Paul Cuadros‘ feature writing class. I learned the mechanics and rudiments of journalism like writing succinctly, ethics and editing skills, not to mention AP style. I think those values are pretty much the same anywhere you go.

Since graduating, I think I’ve learned a lot more about building source relationships, how to be tougher in my questioning when I am reporting and how to build stronger news judgment. What I think might be a good story may not be what readers want, and I am working on thinking like a reader.