Rebecca Sinderbrand Leads Journalism Program Into Its Second Decade

A group of students stands on a stage between shelves of books.
Sinderbrand with This American Life's Ira Glass in Riggs Library after an event with students.

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Veteran news editor and journalist Rebecca Sinderbrand has returned to the Hilltop in a full-time capacity as the Director of the Journalism Program, which is celebrating its 10th anniversary. 

Marking the occasion with a year of amazing visitors and events for students, Sinderbrand is looking to grow the program, prioritizing diversity, equity and inclusion by bringing diverse voices, professors and courses to campus, and creating and funding opportunities for students who might not otherwise have access to them. Sinderbrand plans to make her alma mater, Georgetown University College of Arts & Sciences, a destination for students pursuing a career in journalism.  

“We’re looking to immediately expand our programming, taking advantage of our location in Washington, DC and the incredible network of journalists that exist in this city,” Sinderbrand says. “We want to bring practitioners onto campus and take students out into the city to experience the work of journalism firsthand.”

For more than two decades, Sinderbrand carved out a space for herself in DC as a seasoned political journalist. In her career, Sinderbrand covered six presidential campaigns and five White Houses, traveled to 42 states and half a dozen foreign countries, embedded with a military unit and covered hundreds of debate and election nights. Most recently, she was the Senior Washington Editor for NBC News. Before that, Sinderbrand worked for national outlets like The Washington Post, Politico and CNN. 

Sinderbrand covering a speech from then-candidate Sarah Palin on the campaign trail in 2008.

“I first rode Air Force One during the Clinton administration and sent my final presidential breaking news alert during the Biden administration,” says Sinderbrand.

In recent years, Sinderbrand has spent a considerable amount of time in the classroom, both as a Visiting Lecturer at Yale University and as a Fellow at the Institute of Politics and Public Service. After returning to the classroom, she found that teaching was a natural extension of her career and commitment to journalism. 

“When I first began teaching, I was worried about the time commitment,” Sinderbrand admits. “But I found that it was the one time of the week that I most looked forward to. It made me really appreciate my job in journalism – the students asked incredible questions and made me think about both why and how we do the job.”

Building On Strong Foundations

Despite its nascent Journalism Program, the College has educated countless journalists working in the media today. Georgetown alumni are Pultizer, Emmy and Peabody winners. Hoyas work in the nation’s and the globe’s top newsrooms. 

“The journalism electives at Georgetown, led by working journalists, helped refine my work and taught me new skills,” says Alex Horton (CAS’14), a national security reporter for The Washington Post whose work covering January 6 was recognized when the paper won the Pulitzer for Public Service. “My professors were very accommodating with my schedule and interest in publishing elsewhere; I once asked for an extension for an assignment so I could set up in Lauinger and finish an essay for The Atlantic.”

Alex Horton (CAS’14) distributing humanitarian aid in Baquba, Iraq in 2007.

For Horton, a U.S. Army veteran, the Journalism Program offered incredible support during a formative time in his career. 

“I had a lot of rough edges after teaching myself writing in between patrols in Iraq,” Horton reflects. “The former director of the Journalism Program, Barbara Feinman Todd, was a vital mentor and of the biggest student veteran advocates on campus. I owe her a lot for shepherding me into my career, and to the other professors who helped jumpstart the academic career of a former D student.”

As the program looks ahead into its second decade, prioritizing institutional support for students is a priority. Reflecting on her own start in journalism, Siderbrand acknowledges how opaque the field can be for outsiders. As an undergraduate, Sinderbrand got her first job in journalism writing for The Hoya. Looking to go beyond the Hilltop, however, proved incredibly difficult. Sinderbrand applied to intern for The Los Angeles Times at their Washington bureau. Her application was rejected three times before she got her foot in the door.  

“The reality is that students shouldn’t have to beat at the doors to be let in, and there are many students who won’t be able to, who may come from environments or backgrounds where they need help finding the first step,” Sinderbrand says. “I consider it my mission and my job to ensure that no student who is interested in journalism and who wants to get real-world experience has to hustle just to get an opportunity.”

A New Stronghold for Journalism

Sinderbrand with Ali Vitali after an event co-hosted by the Institute of Politics and Public Service.

In her first semester, Sinderbrand has quickly gotten to work, bringing some of the biggest names in journalism to the Hilltop. Already, the program has hosted – or has on the books – events with Mark Leibovich of The Atlantic, Ali Vitali of NBC News and Ira Glass of This American Life. 

Bringing journalists and editors on campus is just the beginning of providing students with a journalistic toolbox that will serve them equally well in the classroom and the newsroom. This semester, the program is hosting a workshop for reporters and editors at student publications on covering the events of Washington, DC, the dynamics, issues, politics and history of the city. Students will work with reporters from venerable institutions like The Washington Post to learn firsthand how excellent reporting is conducted and conducted responsibly. 

“So much of journalism is experiential, it’s learned by doing,” Sinderbrand says. “Recognizing that reality, we are working to build partnerships with news organizations that give students real-world, hands-on experience.”

While the details aren’t yet finalized, the program is working on a permanent partnership with a major news organization that will allow teams of students to work on deep-dive projects. 

“We want to offer career guidance,” Sinderbrand says. “From the moment you set foot on the Hilltop and realize you would like to make a home in this profession we want to help you map that path, whether it is exploring and figuring out what you want to do, or you know what you want to do and we help plan how to get there.”

-by Hayden Frye (CAS’17)