Leigh Ann Caldwell was a distance swimmer for the Wolfpack as a communication major, and today, she’s in the rough-and-tumble world of covering Congress and politics as a reporter for NBC News.
Did you always have an interest in politics and government?
I knew I wanted to be a journalist when I was 10. I was a swimmer, and I thought I wanted to be a sports broadcaster. Toward the end of college I realized I was interested in politics and government. I couldn’t decide [between journalism or politics]. So I tried out politics and worked on Capitol Hill for a couple of years. Now I feel extremely lucky that I am able to do both.
How did you break into the news business?
I moved to New York to get into journalism, but I had no connections. I waited tables and temped. Then I freelanced with a small public radio station in New York City. That gave me great skills. I moved to D.C. to work with them full time, and started covering Congress. Eventually, I moved up, and went to work for CBS and CNN.
What’s the toughest — and most fun — part of the job?
Like in any kind of journalism, it’s making sure you’re ahead of everyone else. There’s so much news happening all the time, the news cycle is so fast. The fun part is chasing people in the halls and talking to senators, members of Congress, staff. I love that I get to talk to people all day long and figure out what’s happening, and hold people in power accountable.
Are there any parallels between swimming and covering Congress?
Covering politics is intense. Swimming is one of the most intense sports as well. In both of them, you really have to be into what you’re doing. The thing that swimming taught me is how to fail. Failure is a huge component of it, whether in practice or in a big meet or just not meeting your goals — you just have to get back in and swim again and work harder.