Q&A with Tara Jeffries, reporter at Morning Consult

Tara Jeffries is a reporter at Morning Consult, a technology and media organization in Washington, D.C. In this interview, conducted by email, Jeffries discusses her work there, its process for editing and headline writing, and her use of social media. 

Q. Describe your job. What is your typical day like?

A. I’m a finance reporter at Morning Consult, a nonpartisan media company that focuses on the issues driving Washington, Wall Street and Silicon Valley. I cover the intersection of Congress and the financial services industry, with a dash of tax policy, trade and occasional coverage of the presidential candidates’ economic proposals.

I write a mixture of longer, policy-oriented stories and shorter pieces about the news of the day. I’m also the co-author of Morning Consult’s daily Finance Brief, a newsletter that captures the top headlines of the financial services beat.

My routine differs based on whether I’m heading up the brief or my colleague on the finance beat is handling it. On a day that I’m writing it, I’ll gather stories throughout the day and file a draft toward the end of business hours. I file my final draft and go through the editing process with my editor in the morning.

My days also depend on whether Congress is in session. When it is, I’m on Capitol Hill basically every day. Many of my quotes come from committee hearings — I keep detailed tabs on committees pertinent to my beat, like the House Financial Services Committee and the Senate Banking Committee. I also stay in contact with press representatives on those committees to keep in touch about what’s going on and what’s coming up.

But a lot of news is made in hallway interviews — spontaneous interactions with lawmakers after hearings, at events and quite literally as they’re walking in the hallways. I got my first taste of hallway interviewing as a legislative reporting intern with WRAL’s state politics team. When Congress is out of session, I spend a lot of time interviewing and meeting with people in the financial industry, whether they’re lobbyists, advocacy group leaders or think tank policy experts.

In my position, I get to cover the nitty-gritty of policy details in my long-term stories, which is one of my favorite parts of the job. Morning Consult is kind of a policy wonk’s paradise. I also get to be out “in the field” reporting, which is something that many reporters don’t experience at other outlets.

Q. How do story editing and headline writing work at Morning Consult?

A. Stories go through a comprehensive process involving multiple editors.

My stories are handled most of the time by our finance and tech editor (my immediate supervisor), our chief policy editor and/or our managing editor. I write my own headlines, but they are sometimes tweaked by editors, or we float headline suggestions back and forth. The editing at Morning Consult has made me a much more precise, detail-oriented reporter.

Since I am on the Hill most of the time, some of my editing is conducted remotely. Generally, my editors and I communicate via email or Gchat in real time after I file a story. They ask questions and make suggestions. Before publishing a story, they provide me with a “readback” of what it looks like post-editing. This gives me the opportunity to review the piece before it’s published, and bring up any concerns if I have them.

Q. You recently live-tweeted the congressional testimony of Wells Fargo CEO John Stumpf. What role does social media play in your job?

A. I’m fairly active on Twitter, and it’s a great way to connect with sources and/or other reporters on my beat. I have developed a following of congressional staffers, some lawmakers and policy advocates. I sometimes live-tweet events, particularly highly watched proceedings like the Wells Fargo CEO’s testimony or events featuring high-profile players like Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton’s economic advisers, whom I covered last week.

Twitter offers the chance to get a little more conversational and interactive with my coverage. I think one of the biggest misconceptions about policy reporters is that wonky has to mean “stodgy” or boring — regulatory policy, banking policy and, yes, even tax policy can be fun to talk, write and tweet about. My Twitter activity also shows industry and policy sources that I am engaged and informed on my beat.

Q. You are a 2015 graduate of the journalism school at UNC-Chapel Hill. What skills that you learned there do you use in your work, and what new ones have you picked up?

A. In my UNC journalism studies, I learned the importance of a fully fleshed-out story that spells out all the players involved in an incident or topic.

In my particular field, I apply those lessons by making sure to show all the context around a given policy battle or legislative issue. For example, in my coverage of Wells Fargo’s consumer fraud scandal, I’ve detailed not only the immediate news — more than 2 million unauthorized accounts; CEO John Stumpf surrendering $41 million in pay — but how that news ripples out to many of the players in the financial services world, how it affects ongoing regulatory battles and how advocates on different sides of banking issues are using it to gain political capital.

Precision in writing is another aspect of my journalism education that I use in my position — something I learned in both your News Editing and Advanced Editing courses. When covering a numbers-heavy and policy-focused beat, I’m careful to be not only accurate, but precise in my details. An example: When I say that Wells Fargo’s CEO had $41 million in compensation “clawed back,” I need to specify what kind of compensation (in this case, unvested stock options).

Read Jeffries’ stories for Morning Consult and follow her on Twitter.