Catherine Rampell’s parents still have a copy of ‘Nosy News’, a school newspaper she started when she was in third grade. The Little Journal was just the beginning of Rampell’s renowned and reforming career in journalism.
Rampell went on to become a business and political commentator for CNN, a special correspondent for the PBS NewsHour, and a talented and influential opinion columnist for the Washington Post, advocating for political reform through her bi-weekly column.
Being a journalist, Rampell said, is the coolest job in the world.
“You can spend all your time doing something really engaging, and I hope, at least in my career, to potentially make a difference in politics or improve people’s lives,” Rampell said. “That’s the writing aspect of it. This is the aspect of the report. And it was the aspect of responsibility and public impact that really appealed to me.
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Rampell is the Spring Journalist-in-Residence at the University of Wisconsin’s La Follette School of Public Affairs and will give a virtual talk speak May 2 about his extensive data-driven reporting on the economy, immigration, public policy and politics. On May 4, Rampell will be a keynote panelist at the 2022 La Follette forum on American Power, Prosperity and Democracy in Madison.
As a prolific columnist, Rampell’s job is to provide a solid argument with potential solutions. From there, she builds an argument that is entertaining, interesting and accessible to the general public.
“[The column] is 750 to 800 words,” Rampell said. “So I can’t solve all the problems of the world in this space. But I try not to just complain about something.
In 2014, Rampell became one of the youngest opinion columnists in journalism. Prior to her escape, Rampell wrote unsigned op-eds during her internship at the Washington Post in 2007, where she struck up a great relationship with her boss. Rampell then worked at Chronicle of higher education for four months before blogging about the economy at The New York Times from 2008 to 2014. This moment was crucial, because the Great Recession began in 2008, allowing him to highlight his knowledge of economics.
“That’s always the conflict journalists have,” Rampell said. “Your big breakups often come at the expense of relatively bad news.”
By the time Rampell’s former Washington Post boss asked her to write a full-time opinion column, she was more than qualified. Besides her impressive resume, Rampell has been influenced by Maureen Dowd and Guillaume Safirein the opinion columns of the New York Times.
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Ultimately, Rampell wants to leave the legacy of someone who used her journalism to push politics in the right direction — a legacy she is already living.
“The pieces I’m most proud of aren’t necessarily the ones that got the most traffic or got the most attention, but where I can say, ‘That person’s life got better because I used this platform with which I had the chance to shine a light on their problem,” Rampell said.
One such story, titled ‘Biden can easily lift the refugee cap. So why didn’t he?‘, revealed a broken promise by the Biden administration to lift restrictive criteria established during the Trump era for refugees seeking residency in the United States. the terms excluded most Africans and almost all refugees from Muslim-majority countries.
Although Biden promised to change those rules, he never signed the documents. Confused by this, Rampell researched the issue extensively and interviewed many people affected by the policy. Biden signed the papers and survey the refugee ceiling within two months of the publication of Rampell’s article.
“I’m obviously not solely responsible for this, but I think I was writing about it on a higher profile platform than many, relatively early on,” Rampell said. “I like to think that at least helped create that chorus of pressure for the president to change.”
Rampell has felt the effect of his work on the lives of individuals. A man who had been in the refugee system for a decade was able to get a ticket to the United States when Biden lifted the cap. The man emailed Rampell thanking her for her advocacy and for covering up an issue no one else seemed to care about.
Some feedback is not so positive. As an opinion columnist covering hot topics such as politics, immigration, public policy and economics in the polarized national political climate, commentary on her work is commonplace.
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“There’s peer pressure and your friends are going to be mad at you,” Rampell said. “People who thought you were their ally are going to be mad at you. And you just have to say, ‘It’s worth it. I’d rather stick to my principles than live in fear that people are mad at me.
Rampell said she has developed thick skin over the past eight years, especially since many of her reviews are based on her gender. Rampell is constantly reminded that she is a woman, she said, and that she has received rape threats and emails containing sexist swear words. Rather than let those criticisms get to her, she said it proved she was good at her job.
“I should be flattered that they take the time to call me all the names they call me,” Rampell said.
Rampell’s advice to young journalists is to “know something about something”.
In other words, she suggests combining a talent as a writer with an in-depth knowledge of another subject. She even discourages students from majoring in journalism, instead suggesting they pursue it as a side hustle. Rampell also encourages people to focus on multimedia skills and coding – skills that will stand out from other job applicants.
“There are a lot of journalists who can write a pretty sentence and interview people,” Rampell said. “But there are far fewer journalists who have some expertise in the areas that are really in demand.”
Rampell is thrilled to visit the ‘beautiful city’ of Madison, which she last visited in 2019 to speak to the Cap Times Ideas Festival. Besides Madison’s appeal as a city, Rampell is excited to talk and listen to the topics that will be discussed at the May 4 forum, especially inflation.
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“This is a conference where we’re going to talk about some big political issues that I’m interested in,” Rampell said. “[Other topics will include] the state of the economy post-pandemic, how economic factors potentially influence politics as we head into the mid-terms, and other larger geopolitical concerns.
More information about Rampell’s virtual event on May 2 can be found here and the 2022 La Follette Forum on American Power, Prosperity and Democracy will be held at the Monona Terrace Community and Convention Center on May 4 from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m.