Name: Toluse Olorunnipa
Stanford Graduating Class: 2008
Current Job: White House reporter at The Washington Post and political analyst at CNN.
Browsing the stories in The Daily, have you ever paused to consider how a story is developed, nurtured and researched in a national newspaper? How will the chaotic events that are written about today shape history?
Well, we’ve got Toluse Olorunnipa ’08 here to shed some light on the realities of working at The Washington Post as the White House reporter and as a political analyst for CNN. His work has been featured in The Wall Street Journal, The Chicago Tribune, Bloomberg Businessweek, The Tampa Bay Times and The Seattle Times, among others. He is a man tasked daily with uncovering the truth and using that power to shape history. Interest piqued? Read further for more about this intriguing reporter.
1. Tell me about your job. What does a typical day look like?
“I cover the White House and Washington politics, so I check whether the president has done anything interesting or tweeted anything [overnight], and I use this to frame how my day starts. [Then], I will usually check in with my editors and see what they are thinking about for the day. From there I spend time on the phone with sources: talking to experts in different fields and people who have information that can help inform the public.”
2. What was the spark that inspired your pursuit of this type of work?
“I had a great opportunity at Stanford to write for The Stanford Daily, and I received a scholarship from a newspaper company that allowed me to explore my interest in journalism. I got the bug for writing about the information [that people] need to make key decisions in their lives. “[Journalism] was something that I wanted to do in part because it was possible to do something different every day … This was [also] something that I felt would allow me to hold powerful people accountable and provide a voice to people who didn’t have [one].”
3. What are the most significant dissatisfactions and challenges connected with your occupation?
“It is very tough, especially these days, to find out the truth when there is so much misinformation, which makes the public think that everything is false and there is no way to tell what the truth is. … That type of cynicism can be injected into politics by unscrupulous people, and it can be hard for journalists to operate in that environment. It is a constant struggle but a worthwhile fight.”
4. What jobs and experiences have led to your present position? Please reflect on clubs at Stanford you participated in, classes you attended, skills you gained from your major, events you went to, internships you got, etc.
“The best experiences I had were working at local newspapers throughout my career. I worked at the Miami Herald the summer before I worked there full-time for three years. I interned for a summer at The Washington Post. In terms of classes, after taking [SOC 1:] ‘Introduction to Sociology,’ I decided to pursue a major in sociology. I could link that up with what I wanted to do in journalism: understanding society, demographics and the forces that make societies act. [My major] has continued to help me throughout my career [because it] influences me to look at some of the forces at play in a story. But more so than any class would be the hands-on internships at local newspapers. … It was a great training ground for where I am now.”
5. What would you describe as the biggest hurdle that you have had to overcome on your road to success that Stanford did not prepare you for?
“I graduated right in the middle of the great recession in 2008, when there was a lot of uncertainty in the economy. People were losing jobs and homes. There was no way that any college degree would be able to prepare you to deal with that situation. It was a major shock, and it was tough to start your career in that environment. … This challenge was unexpected, but I was more prepared than I would have been without my Stanford education and strong network, without which I would not have been able to manage that tough time as much as I did. Even the most prepared graduating senior struggled to find their feet, but eventually, we did.”
6. If you could go back in time, what would you have done differently? What advice would you give your younger Stanford self?
“I would have learned more about the world; international relations [is] a major I would have considered more closely. Since I have been at work, I have had to get up to speed on international affairs and learn about the history of different parts of the world. It’s tough to get your arms around much of that; focusing more on that during college when I had a lot more time would have well-equipped me in a career in journalism.”
7. What abilities or personal qualities do you believe contribute most to success in this field/ job?
“A passion and a hunger for information. A love of knowledge. A hard-work ethic. A want to right the wrongs and hold people accountable. … Good listening skills and a willingness to absorb information that may be outside their frame of mind and comfort zone. Journalists have to go into situations with an open mind. Those characteristics help journalists survive these fast-paced times … and rise in the current system.”
Mull this over. Perhaps you are the next Toluse Olorunnipa — destined to be a high-impact journalist shaping history.
Consider international relations to shape you into a global citizen and widen your breadth as a writer. How will you learn beyond the borders of America?
Find newspaper internships to get that hands-on experience required. How will you get your hands on exciting stories?
Given how our current paradigm mirrors the 2008 recession, how can you harness your Stanford education and network to get your dream job in the toughest of times?