From campus news to the halls of power

Laura Meckler, AB ’90, a reporter for The Wall Street Journal, fell in love with journalism while reporting for Student Life as an undergrad. (Photo by Melina Mara/The Washington Post)

An undergraduate love affair changed Laura Meckler’s life. Working on Washington University’s campus newspaper Student Life, Meckler, AB ’90, “fell in love with journalism” — a passion that endures now as she covers the 2016 presidential race for The Wall Street Journal as a staff reporter.

“I love doing this work,” Meckler says. “It’s important. The stakes are high: Who is going to end up leading this country for the next four years? And, personally, I think politics itself is fascinating, the craft of it and the policy pieces. I was a policy reporter for a long time before I covered politics, and I care a lot about it.”

Meckler spent years covering health and social policy before moving to politics and, in 2009, to the White House beat. Now she is covering the presidential races, where she follows the Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump campaigns around the country, returning to her home base of Washington, D.C., to dig deeper into stories.

“The challenge is to stay on top of the news of the day and feel like you know what’s happening on the campaign trail, what the candidates are saying, while also taking time to step back and write something more durable and meaningful,” ­Meckler says.

Part of that is holding candidates’ feet to the fire when ­necessary, as she did in an article on Hillary Clinton’s State Department staff blocking the release of politically sensitive documents requested under the Freedom of Information Act. In another story, she calculated that Sen. Bernie Sanders’ proposed programs would cost some $18 trillion over 10 years, the largest peacetime expansion of government in U.S. history.

“Not that everything a candidate proposes will necessarily become law,” Meckler says. “Sometimes our job is to point out when something likely won’t become law. But it says a lot about their values and priorities. I really enjoy digging into it and trying to help readers understand what candidates are proposing.”

And she’s done so with great success, according to The Wall Street Journal’s Washington bureau chief, Jerry Seib. “Three of the toughest assignments I can imagine in Washington would be covering the White House during the fight over Obamacare, immigration policy during the great debate after the 2012 election and the crazy 2016 presidential election. We’ve asked Laura to handle each one of those — and she has, expertly,” Seib says.

Meckler joined the Journal in 2005 after 10 years as a staff reporter for The Associated Press, mostly in Washington. While there, she developed her journalism chops, winning a 1999 ­Livingston Award for National Reporting for her coverage of organ donation and transplantation issues, and she was a 2003 Nieman fellow at Harvard University. A Cleveland native, Meckler had previously covered state government in Columbus, Ohio, as well as local news. But she got her start at Student Life.

“Political science and international development were my technical majors, but what I really majored in was Student Life,” Meckler says. “My future was cast in the campus newsroom. I loved learning how to produce the news and then seeing it read all over campus.”

Now, working for America’s most widely circulated daily newspaper, she sees her work read across the country and around the world. Still, she stays involved with Student Life, ­serving on its board of directors and mentoring its student ­journalists. Yet her ongoing passion for journalism born there comes with challenges.

“It’s very demanding. I have two young children at home, and I am on the road a lot. Even when I’m in D.C., I often work late and sometimes from home on weekends. A 6-year-old doesn’t always understand that,” she says.

But that doesn’t stop her from wanting more of the same. When discussing her professional future, she talks about different beats to cover, not a different job.

Having covered the White House and many other Washington beats, there’s not one assignment she’s pining for, Meckler says. “I’ve found that in my career, good things sort of happen next.”

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