Has he tweeted yet?
That’s the only thing on Ashley Parker’s mind when her alarm goes off at 6am. He, of course, is President Donald Trump.
If he hasn’t, she hits the snooze button and goes back to sleep. If he has, she pulls her laptop into bed and begins her day as one of the six White House reporters for the Washington Post.
In her 13 years in journalism with the Post and the New York Times, she’s been to almost every American state, spending enough time on the presidential campaign trail to have a favorite hipster t-shirt store in Des Moines and a favorite farm-to-table restaurant in Manchester, N.H. She followed Trump on his Asia trip in November and President Obama to Hawaii in 2013.
On May 13, Annenberg’s graduating seniors will have a chance to hear Parker’s collected wisdom — and also some advice gleaned from the smart and interesting people she has met as a journalist — as Annenberg’s 2018 graduation speaker.
A double major in Communication and English, Parker graduated from Penn in 2005 with the building blocks of a journalism career, having put in many late nights as a writer and editor for The Daily Pennsylvanian and 34th Street magazine. While at Penn, Parker also interned at The New York Sun and The Gaithersburg Gazette, and wrote a cover story for Philadelphia Weekly.
At Annenberg, Parker took classes taught by Bloomberg News Executive Editor Al Hunt and pollster Peter Hart, and was particularly influenced by political communication classes taught by then-Annenberg Dean Kathleen Hall Jamieson.
“It was exciting to get both the academic perspective from someone like Kathleen Hall Jamieson and also be able to have classes with real life working journalists and pollsters,” says Parker. “You got both the practical and theoretical application to what you were going to be doing.”
Interestingly, some of the guest speakers Parker met in Hunt’s class, “Contemporary Politics, Policy, and Journalism,” later became reporting sources for her in D.C.
Directly after graduation, Parker began an internship at LIFE magazine, and within months landed a job as the research assistant for New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd — a job she would hold for five years. Parker then worked her way up as a reporter at the Times, first as a Metro Desk reporter in New York, and then later covering Congress and presidential campaigns. While at the Times, she covered the 2012 Romney Campaign, crisscrossing the country in Mitt Romney’s private plane with the press pool, as well as Jeb Bush and later Donald Trump in the 2016 campaign.
Between 2005 and 2016, Parker racked up 1,874 bylines or reporting credits at the Times.
In 2017, Parker decamped for the Washington Post, where she continues to cover the Trump White House.
“In this Trump era, I’m never not writing,” she says. “We don’t cover Trump differently, but there’s a relentlessness and a demand for stories that didn’t exist in other administrations.”
Parker does three-week rotations between the “duty reporter” tasks of attending White House press briefings and following the president on domestic trips and the “hot seat” rotation of processing the nonstop firehose of news.
“A lot of what I personally do is get pulled into stories and try and figure out what’s actually going on in the White House,” says Parker. “I’m trying to explain Donald Trump to our readers. I’m making a ton of calls, meeting with a ton of sources, and then at some point — usually way too late in the day for my editor’s taste — opening a Word doc and filing a story.”
She was part of the team that broke the story about Trump on Air Force One dictating Donald Trump Jr.’s statement about the June 2016 Trump Tower meeting with a group of Russians. A video of her “Are you kidding me?” expression in reaction to a Sean Spicer White House press briefing became a viral meme.
But her natural skepticism aside, most of the time, Parker feels incredibly lucky.
“The truth is, it just doesn’t feel like a job,” she says. “You’re working very hard, but every day feels different. Sometimes you are sitting at your desk making phone calls, but sometimes you’re crouched on the floor of the short track speed skating arena in Pyeongchang trying to get wifi service to file a breaking story. Or you’re on a press bus with some of your friends rolling through Texas for two days. Or you’re in a packed arena in Mississippi watching the president take the stage.”
“It feels incredibly fun and interesting and new and different every single day.”
Ashley Parker will speak at the Communication Major Graduation Ceremony on May 13, 2018 from 10-11am at the Zellerbach Theater of the Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts, 3680 Walnut Street in Philadelphia. Next month, invitations will be sent to the families of graduating seniors.