Journalism, Politics & Policy: A Career Conversation with Cynthia Needham ’99

Cynthia Needham ’99

Cynthia Needham, political editor at the Boston Globe, recently joined Bowdoin students for a two-hour lunchtime talk in Thorne’s Hutchinson Dining Room. The career conversation was open to all Bowdoin students, especially those considering a career in journalism or politics.

Needham described her inside perspective on the world of political journalism with the humility and practicality of a good investigative journalist. She said that as a Bowdoin senior, she had no idea what her plans were going to be after graduation. “I have this memory of being in the career center office in tears, saying ‘I don’t know what I’m going to do.’”

Needham, an English and history major, spent several years after graduation working as a paralegal in a New York law firm. She was debating whether to go to law school when 9/11 hit. She and her colleagues were told they would have to evacuate the building and could only bring their most important valuables with them. Cradling an armful of LSAT books, she looked at the load in her arms, thought “forget it,” and left the books behind. She said that was the moment she knew she didn’t want to be a lawyer.

Instead, Needham went to Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism. Her first job afterwards was a “prolonged internship” at Newsday. When asked if she regrets the time she spent pursing law, Needham reminded students, “Everything you try is a useful experience, even if it’s not what you end up doing.” In fact, Needham got her “foot in the door” at her first job because of her previous work at a district attorney’s office.

Needham’s biggest piece of advice for aspiring journalists? “Twitter is your best friend.” Twitter is what a journalist uses to keep up with breaking news as well as promote his or her latest stories. The first thing Needham does every morning is check her Twitter feed to see what broke overnight. Furthermore, you “never know who you are going to connect with,” i.e., Twitter is essential for networking.

However, Twitter is only the tip of the iceberg. A young journalist must understand how to use other web-based outlets, such as blogs, social media, video journalism, and infographics, in order to succeed in the field.

The inundation of constant media makes for a busy work life. “Work/life balance is hard in a 24/7 news cycle, but people respect you when you make those boundaries,” said Needham.

Though she is a political editor, Needham must remain impartial towards partisan politics. Instead, she features “anything investigative that tells the public something that they didn’t know.” Needham smiles. “That’s the fun stuff.”

As a way for Bowdoin students to learn more about potential careers they may want to pursue after graduation, Career Planning hosts career conversations throughout the year by bringing in successful Bowdoin alumni who wish to share their experiences with students.

Story and Photo by Margot Howard ’13

Leave a Comment

*