Life as a Female News "Road Warrior"
In 2016, while the presidential campaign cycle was heating up, MSNBC introduced its first class of "Road Warriors" or reporters like Kasie Hunt (above) and Jacob Soboroff sent out to battleground states and beyond, to cover the election on a hyperlocal level. These reporters joined the hundreds of other journalists keeping a close eye on the campaign trail, through the 24-hour Twitter news cycle, and the birth of "fake news." It was often grueling, they'd spend days at a time living out of suitcases to chase stories their viewers most wanted to follow, all while battling the mistrust many voters (and a certain candidate) hurled toward the media. Then this year, they did it all again.
Leading up to the midterms, NBC News and MSNBC decided to send out their best and brightest young reporters once again to border cities, farm country, wealthy suburbs, and more all across the country. Their task? Putting the American people back at the center of politics. From covering toxic algae spills and environmental concerns in Florida to interviewing twins running for opposing parties in Michigan, and rendesvousing with Kamala Harris at the U.S.-Mexico border, Road Warriors like Morgan Radford, Catie Beck (who's six months pregnant!), Kasie Hunt, and Ali Vitali are taking the temperature of the country, finding out what voters really care about and changing some misconceptions about the media along the way. It's a tough job, but as Radford says, "This is the moment that journalists like me live for."
“The Road Warriors is unique in that we do people-driven politics I haven't seen elsewhere,” she says. “We are flipping the political paradigm on its head [in that we’re] going in and talking to people first and then letting politicians react.” Below, get to know some of the women bringing the midterms coverage that matters into American homes.
NBC News Correspondent
On getting into news… “I was going to become a lawyer or go get my PhD, I had just gotten accepted into Oxford, and then I applied to Colombia, and I got rejected wholeheartedly for the first time. Then I went to South Africa and I started telling all these stories to kids in townships there. When I came back, I was like, look, I have to [be a storyteller]. Now, I'm a real-life adventurer. I think stories are what connect us and define us, but ultimately, they're also what inspire us to action. And I find that question about why people do what they do the most important question there is.”
On how reporting has changed… “To be honest, I am happier now (covering politics specifically) than I've ever been professionally. I just think we are in the middle of what is nothing shy of a cultural revolution. This is the moment that journalists like me live for.
"We've never seen this level of motivation when it comes to people of color entering the ballots, woman entering the ballots, and I want to be here for it. I think people are finally grasping why midterms, and why election cycles that are not presidential are so important, regardless how you vote, regardless of what you believe, because that place where you put your beliefs is on the ballot. People have injected passion back into their politics.”
On “fake news”… “I think we've seen this administration launch a really strong campaign to inspire a level of distrust in the media. That's hard to hear. It's hard to watch when I literally devote my life to listening to people's stories and their perspectives. I went to cover a rally recently and someone said, ‘Oh, you know, fake news.’ I said, ‘Do you think I'm fake news? I obviously work for a marquee media brand,’ and they said, ‘No, no, I think you're great.’ I'm like, ‘Well, to give you some perspective, I haven't been home in seven days. I live out of a suitcase, I have three clean shirts, and I do it just so I can hear you. I do this just so I can come and meet you.’ I think that puts it into perspective for them.”
On Road Warriors… “We’re going in and talking to voters, to people who are, I hate saying this, but you know, in America's heartland. We're talking about what they care about, what they want to be covered. That's actually what gives me a lot of my story ideas, hearing, ‘Yeah, Morgan, you came here to ask me about job security, but what I really care is about healthcare.’ That's an incredible way to keep your pulse on the population and on your American brothers and sisters.”
On what surprises her most… “The way that people can simultaneously hold extraordinarily competing ideas. I've met people who are in dire health straits that will say to me, ‘The Affordable Care Act is literally saving my life, but I'm not necessarily going to vote for a person who protects it. Instead I want to vote for a particular politician whose personality is more important to me than their policies.’ That's a striking thing to hear from someone who says that their health is in dire straits, and a specific thing is saving them.
"Watching that internal conflict is probably one of the more fascinating things I've watched in a while. It gives me more complex, more layered, and frankly more interesting stories to tell.”
When she’s not on the road… “I am a wicked salsa dancer. Catch me at a salsa floor near you."
Best advice… “I was going through a hard story recently and I said, ‘Dad, what do you think?’ He said, "Morgan, sometimes while you're reporting, people want you to enter the fray. But your job is always to elevate the conversation, and, in the end, remind us that we can be our best selves.’”
NBC News Correspondent
On getting into news… “News was a calling for me from a very small age of like seven or eight; I was practicing with my hairbrush in the bathroom mirror. I think, on a daily basis, as hard as we work and as much as we travel, I'm still pinching myself that somebody's willing to pay me to tell stories because there's just nothing I love to do more than that. I get to be on the front lines of history, and I think people trust me to tell them the most important information that's out there. Yes, there are hardships and sacrifices, but overall, how many people are always going to have the most interesting story at the dinner table when they get home from work? I get to be that person, and that is such a neat privilege to have.”
On her "love affair" with government corruption… “Three or four years into my career, I realized that I had a passion for government and a total repulsion for waste and abuse of power. So, I spent a really good portion of my time in local news chasing after elected leaders who were wasting or abusing government money.”
On covering the South… “I'm covering the races going on in the South. I feel like I got a really lucky draw because some of the most competitive races are in the South this time around. So, you're seeing states like Mississippi, Tennessee, and Texas that are normally absolutely solid red states, and you're seeing these hyper-competitive races. Like in the Tennessee Senate race, the former governor is a Democrat, and they're polling neck and neck with the Republican candidate.”
On what’s surprised her the most this election cycle … “I would say the number of women that have decided to enter races has been inspirational to me knowing that a lot of them are moms and teachers, not polished politicians. They're not super well-funded or brought up in the political ranks. They're everyday people. And it’s just great to see women say, ‘I'm going to get out there and fight.’ Frankly, it's more representative of the balance of women in this country.”
On Road Warriors' support… “We do text a lot. We're usually in different cities and doing different stories, but we have similar experiences. If I'm at a Trump rally this week, one of them had a Trump rally last week or if they're covering some candidate for Senate, in likelihood, I have done something on him or her, too. So yeah, I text with correspondents and producers all the time. Whether it's venting or just, ‘Was this your experience?’ ‘What did you think of this?’ ‘How did you get a credential for this?’ We definitely lean on each other.”
On reporting on the road while six months pregnant… “Travel when you're pregnant is a bit tougher because you're trying to deal with fatigue, maybe nausea, or you're trying to bury all these other symptoms and focus on what you have to do. It’s been interesting. I'm on airplanes three or four days a week, so I'm towing my bag and my baby bump, and just sort of making it work.”
NBC News Capitol Hill Correspondent and Host of “Kasie DC” on MSNBC
On getting into political reporting... “I got into this business in sort of a starry-eyed, optimistic way. I've always felt like my job is to try to be a part of our democracy. I think right now, as grueling as it can be covering the Trump administration just because of the sheer pace of it, it's clear that we're at a critical moment in the history. Being part of that everyday really means a lot to me.
"I actually went to college in Washington, D.C. I majored in international relations. At the time it was the height of the Iraq War. I thought about trying to go work overseas or being a war correspondent, but I ended up actually doing an internship in the political unit at NBC News in 2005. Once I started covering presidential politics, I just sort of got the bug. Once you cover a presidential campaign and you realize the depths of the stakes, it's sort of hard to go back.”
On new technology… “Every single election cycle, there seems to be a new technology that really changes the way things are done. The earliest campaigns that I covered, Twitter didn't exist. In 2008, they were just discovering how to campaign on Facebook — Obama sort of pioneered digital fundraising. In 2012, it was really the first election where Twitter was in widespread use among reporters covering these candidates, and that was a huge adjustment for everyone. Also, how candidates can interact directly with constituents, with the public, and obviously Donald Trump's own use of Twitter is probably the most glaring example of how that has dramatically changed.”
On Capitol Hill news… “Capitol Hill has been such a busy place that it's been hard to break away during this midterm in a way that's different than past midterm elections that I've covered. I was on the road constantly in 2014 partly because, quite frankly, the story of what was going on back in Washington just wasn't as compelling. But under President Trump's first two years, it's just been so up and down and the news has been so intense.”
On how reporting has changed… “I think all of us have adjusted to a new pace of politics that's sort of driven by the White House. For those of us who, somewhere in the deep recesses of our memory, remember what it was like under other administrations, it's simply not the case. The fire hose of news you're dealing with every day is something that you really have to figure out how to keep up with while also making sure that you don't forget about the broader trends and other stories that should be getting your attention.”
On covering the midterms… “The toughest thing about covering these midterms is trying to make sure that you're listening to voters when they tell you what they're focused on and what they're worried about. Because our view from Washington, from Capitol Hill, is very focused on the president — what he's tweeting about that morning, the Russia investigation. There are some voters who care about those things, but there are a lot of voters who care about other things, like preexisting conditions and protecting healthcare coverage – I would say those are the biggest issue on the table this cycle.”
On bias and President Trump… “I think in a lot of ways, President Trump has challenged the way all of us do our jobs because there's a big difference between not allowing your opinion to filter into something and ignoring the breaking of a norm that would have previously defined how our democracy has functioned. Finding the right line in how you report and analyze what this president is doing is definitely a challenge that I hadn't faced before in my career because I'd gotten to the point where I was very comfortable and, quite frankly, have built very strong relationships with sources, politicians on both sides of the aisle. I think if you look back at the interviews that we do at 'Kasie DC,' for example, you'll see politicians from both parties [because] they feel as though I'm a place where they can come to get a fair hearing.
"But again, Donald Trump has definitely challenged our traditional notions of what it means to be unbiased and that's something that you just have to think about and grapple with every day on every topic and every appearance.”
On what keeps her going… “I would be a much sadder person if I didn't have my puppy. I should've gotten a dog a long time ago. We brought him home Christmastime last year. He's been with us for a year. His name is Radar after a TV show character from M.A.S.H. He has his own Instagram.”
On advice from her colleague Mika Brzezinski… “I have a little whiteboard in my office and it just says ‘own it’ on it. That was what she told me from the very beginning. And it's something, especially when you're broadcasting on the air or when you're in a high wire moment with a politician who you think is not telling you the truth and you have to push back, that I keep coming back to.”
NBC News Political Reporter
On covering Trump for over 600 days… “I've been traveling for political coverage since summer of 2015. It feels like it's been nonstop. I think once Trump’s first campaign was all said and done, we hit more than 43 states over the course of that 18-month period, and then I followed him to the White House. When the opportunity came to get back on the campaign trail for midterms, I jumped at it because I learned from the 2016 election that talking to voters is probably the most valuable thing you can do as a political reporter right now.”
On covering local issues… “In the Florida races both for Senate and for Governor, toxic algae is a really big problem down there, and we did a story in August before the primary about how voters were voting on this issue. So, the environment in Florida is front and center, and we all think of Florida as a Trump state — he calls it his second home, he's there all through the winter at Mar-a-Lago — but voters are not necessarily voting [based] on Trump.”
On Twitter and the 24-hour news cycle… “I'm kind of used to it. When your day starts with the President on Twitter, which was what was true during the campaign for me and [while covering] the White House, you're used to the constant swirl. I think that people who follow me on Twitter or on Instagram have come to expect political takes mixed with a little bit of life and that builds a relationship with your viewers and your followers and it also puts a little bit of trust back into the relationship that reporters can have with the people who are reading their stuff.”
On the toughest part of being a Road Warrior… “As much as the constant travel is amazing, it is exhausting. Being able to stay passionate every single day is really, really good fuel to keep you going, but sometimes when you're on a plane every single day for a week, you just really want your own bed.”
On what keeps her going… “I love this stuff. I love politics and I think that there's no better time to be a political reporter because everyone really wants to know what's going on. Whether you love Trump or hate Trump, the best thing that he has done is that he's made people more engaged in the political process.”
On covering the midterms on the road… “Often when you cover politics out of Washington, you're covering what's being said and the back and forth between lawmakers and policy. That's so important, and I love my time covering the White House because it let me do that, but it's also really important to see the way that these policies impact people. I think our midterm coverage and the emphasis that MSNBC and NBC have put on getting us on the ground to source up and talk to local officials, but also local voters, are critical.”
On what she didn’t expect… “I didn't know that [getting on the road] would be so much interacting with strangers and asking, ‘Hey, can you tell me the biggest thing affecting your life right now?’ And sometimes those conversations get really personal. You hear from people who are struggling, who are looking for work, who want to see Washington be accountable for them. When people trust you with those stories, you feel energized to keep going and keep reporting this stuff. I think that's what's changed for me, especially after seeing 2016 and getting used to telling those stories from the ground.”
Her best advice… “If you're interested in politics, you don't necessarily have to be a reporter out under the campaign rally to learn what the electorate is thinking. You can talk to your friends and neighbors. I would definitely say just ask a lot of great questions and if you're already working in news, take every opportunity to get out in the field and talk to voters.”
On what she’s learned on the road… “I have learned that dry shampoo is my best friend and that I probably function on way too much coffee. But I think, on a more serious note, it's easy to give up being at home for long stretches of time when you're passionate about what you're covering.”
On staying in touch with other Road Warriors… “Morgan Radford and I both love manicures and nail art, so if we've managed to get a manicure recently, we'll text each other a picture of that. I know that Katy Tur and I worked really closely together during the 2016 election. She's still a really good friend and she had knit me a scarf during that election, so I'll send her pictures with the scarf as I'm wearing it on the campaign trail. There's a lot of really great support from the women who work at this company, and I've always been really heartened by how supportive we are of each other and how collaborative our reporting process can be. I know that there's this conception out there that women don't back each other up, but that has never been my experience and I'm so happy for that.”
On hesitant interviewees… “There's a skepticism about talking to the media and I've had a lot of conversations where voters might start off a little bit timid and then we start talking and I end up hearing about every aspect of their life and at the end of it they say, ‘You're one of the good ones.’ Every time a voter has that moment where they're like, ‘Oh, they're people too,’ I think that's great. And that’s one of the added benefits of getting on the road like this: You get to meet new people and maybe change some of their conceptions about media and what it is to do reporting.”