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Beyond the Beltway

Finn

NBC Political News Reporter Teaganne Finn ’16 on her search for stories that reveal the consequences of D.C. decisions.

BY NATALIA ST. LAWRENCE ’16

Stories at the crux of policy and people: for Teaganne Finn ’16, that’s where the news comes alive. In the age of so-called “fake news,” when trust in the media has become a partisan issue and some outlets favor clickbait over substance, the NBC political reporter says good journalism demands “taking the big picture and going down to the local level,” now more than ever.

As Gallup noted in October, “Americans’ confidence in the media to report the news fairly, accurately and fully has been persistently low for over a decade and shows no signs of improving, as Republicans’ and Democrats’ trust moves in opposite directions.” That gap is the result of a range of socio-historical factors, and hardly the domain of a sole journalist to resolve, but Finn says that for reporters covering the Capitol and national politics, there is a risk of getting “stuck in a D.C. bubble,” with all its attendant drama. “Covering local news gives you an appreciation for real people and real stories,” she says.

As a senior at HWS, she reported on children of migrant workers in the Finger Lakes region, highlighting the ways local communities are impacted by federal legislation, like the farm bill that lawmakers take up every five years. After earning her master’s in public affairs and journalism from American University, Finn joined Bloomberg News as a D.C.-based agricultural reporter, which found her in the newsroom during the passage of the 2018 farm bill. That moment, and the memory of her student reporting, underscored the scope and significance of the stories that flow through the Capital Beltway.

“I write stories that flip-flop all the time, between a bill being $3 billion versus $3.5 trillion, or whatever it is. Those are big figures,” Finn says, “but I know that they’re actually affecting people in towns all over, like Geneva.”

One of the most important stories of Finn’s early career put her in school lunchrooms, observing what was at stake in a Congressional rewrite of the child nutrition bill — from the nutritional value of school meals to the practice of “lunch shaming.” (As Finn explained in a 2019 Bloomberg article, “‘Lunch shaming’…is where students unable to pay for a school lunch are denied food, given alternate meals or otherwise stigmatized…to get their parents to pay up.”) Ultimately, she says, “It came back to this idea: parents just want to feed their kids.”

Her reporting this fall has centered on the unfolding Congressional back-and-forth over the debt limit and infrastructure spending, but she’s also covered the journeys of Haitian immigrants and the fallout of Texas’ recent law banning abortions after six weeks of pregnancy. Whatever the story, she says meeting readers where they are helps build trust and minimize chances of misinterpretation. By prioritizing clarity and context, and “sticking to the script” — the who, what, when, where and why — she hopes to avoid amplifying political theater and scandal-mongering. As she says, “You can’t sensationalize something that isn’t there.”