The Carroll News: What were you involved in during your time at John Carroll University?
Joe Toohey: I was a communication major, political science minor and I worked for The Carroll News. I was the assistant world news editor. And I had internships. I interned at Channel 3 in Cleveland, I interned with Live Nation and then a publicity group called The Owens Group. I did work for Columbia Pictures there. So I did a lot of the media-news hybrid stuff while I was there.
The CN: Did you always know that you wanted to go into political journalism?
Toohey: No. I always had a real interest in politics. I always loved the process of watching how government worked and it never really dawned on me that I could make a career out of doing that. I was lucky enough that I happened to go to the same college as Tim Russert, and when he passed away they created the fellowship, which was this amazing opportunity. It kind of shone a light on it in a way for me and kind of highlighted that that’s what I wanted to be doing. Once that was announced, I set my sights on it. From that moment, I knew then that that’s what I wanted to be doing.
The CN: How did you react when you found out that you received the “Meet the Press” fellowship?
Toohey: Excitement. When Betsy Fischer called me, I think it was the day before graduation, and I remember getting really excited and not being able to get my words out on the phone. I was just like, “Oh my god, thank you so much. I won’t let you down. Oh my god. Thank you.” So yeah, it was pure excitement. I called my family right away and it was awesome. It was like a dream come true because I had been working towards it since they announced it my junior year, so for two years by then.
The CN: What was your first day like at “Meet the Press?”
Toohey: Oh man, my first day. It was like a combination of both excitement, being extremely nerve-wracking and also comfortable at the same time. It’s kind of like the first day of school or any type of first day where you don’t really know what to expect. You walk in really wanting to impress people but also really humbled and honored. What I was struck by was just how nice and inclusive and welcoming everyone was on the staff there and at NBC in general. They all recognize you’re the fellow, and you’re new at this and you’re here to learn. Everyone had a door open. It was surreal almost, because you’re going up the elevator next to Chris Matthews or David Gregory and you have to pinch yourself, like, oh my god, this is actually real and where I work now for the next nine months.
The CN: What is your most memorable moment during your time at “Meet the Press?”
Toohey: One that comes to mind was the day we did a joint interview with then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Secretary of Defense Robert Gates. That was a pre-taped interview on a Saturday, and I was the greeter. So I was out there with all the diplomatic security people and these 20 SUVs pulled up together, and then all these guys with guns and sunglasses and suits got out, and then out pop Hillary Clinton and Robert Gates. And I got to walk them in, so that was one of the most surreal moments. It was crazy. So I would say that, and also working on a presidential debate. We partnered with Facebook in January 2012. Going up to New York to work out of “30 Rock” for that and being part of that whole experience covering the election for “Meet the Press” was really memorable and exciting.
The CN: What’s the most important thing that you learned during the fellowship?
Toohey: It really is a boot camp in broadcast journalism, so everything from accuracy to the language of TV to how to do research and formulate interview questions and understand news judgment and what’s important and what will they use. I don’t think there’s one thing that will encapsulate that. Maybe just how to work in television. There’s no other way or no other place that you could be given so much of a front row seat to see how that works. Because there is a little bit of a learning curve. It’s not like being a doctor or a lawyer or on that level, but there are certain things that only make sense if you’re in TV. Terms like close shot or iNews or things like that that would not really dawn on anyone otherwise unless you work in news. I think that’s probably the most valuable thing because that’s what I have a career in, so that’s definitely everything.
The CN: Did you receive any memorable advice while you were there?
Toohey: I think just generally the theme of while you’re a fellow, you’re there to learn. Everyone from David Gregory to the executive producer at the time, she’s not there anymore, Betsy Fischer, the first week, everyone would repeatedly say, “You’re here to learn, so take advantage of that.” They kind of reminded me of the opportunity that I had and to ask questions and that their doors were open. Whether it was a place for dinner or how to formulate a question for an interview, you kind of grow up there. There’s innumerable amounts of advice that I got there that have been extremely valuable to me.
The CN: How do you think your life would be different if you hadn’t gotten the fellowship?
Toohey: Oh, it would be completely different. I took the LSAT and I had planned on applying to law school before I got the fellowship. But then once I got it, that fell by the wayside and I ended up not going through with it. Had I not gotten it, I would probably be just finishing law school or probably be semesters behind, I don’t know. But I don’t think I’d be in Washington, and I think I would be on a completely different career path.
The CN: What are you up to now?
Toohey: I am still with “Meet the Press.” I’m a producer at the show now. So I’ve had a couple of different jobs since I’ve been there, and now I’m a producer and I focus primarily on digital [content]. So all of our new ventures into the digital world, whether it’s our Flipboard magazine or a new interview series we’re doing on Twitter called Tweet the Press or a video series we’re about to be launching that is still yet to be named. “Meet the Press” is one day a week on television, but we’d like to be seven days a week online. And that’s what I’m tasked with helping to get done.
The CN: What advice do you have for future applicants for the “Meet the Press” fellowship?
Toohey: It really comes down to two things that you need to be well-versed in and be good at by the time you get to the fellowship. You have to know and love politics and news, and you have to want to work in TV. Those are two really specific things. You have to be prepared to do both. So if you love politics, and you’re taking all political science classes and you interned with your Congressman, try to get some news experience, whether that’s at a local TV station or TV-4 or The Carroll News. And vice versa. If you’re all news and television, take some politics classes. Know what’s going on in Congress, know who’s who, because these are the faces you’ll see every week on the show. You’ll have to be familiar with who people are, why they’re important, what’s going on, and why it impacts people. So just have a firm foundation in those two things. On top of that, just be a nice person. Everyone likes someone that’s easy to work with, so just in life in general, that really goes a long way.