Clayton McCleskey, B.A. ’09, is getting a hands-on look into the world of journalism thanks to a Fulbright scholarship.
By Julia Parmley
Journalists are used to tight deadlines and tracking down stories, but for Clayton McCleskey, B.A.’09, it’s a little more complicated than that. Mr. McCleskey is currently living in Germany and writing about international topics for the opinion pages of The Dallas Morning News in Texas. The logistics can be difficult and the days long — with the seven hour time difference, Mr. McCleskey’s editors begin contacting him after his workday ends —but the Dallas native is grateful for the opportunity.
“Many newspapers have cut back on their foreign coverage in recent years; however, I’m lucky that my editors at The Dallas Morning News have given me this opportunity and share my belief that there is often a direct local angle to the most pressing international issues,” says Mr. McCleskey. “Folks in Dallas can learn how people in cities and countries around the world deal with the same problems they face--whether it’s climate change or public transit.”
One of a record 18 GW graduates to be awarded Fulbrights this academic year, Mr. McCleskey is in Germany on a year-long scholarship. He works what he calls the “glo-cal” beat by scouting out international topics he thinks will interest Dallas readers.
“When you are based overseas, you have to constantly remind yourself who your audience is,” he says. “It’s easy to start writing for a German audience, because I live among Germans, but it’s the folks back home I have to reach.”
Mr. McCleskey first got his hand in journalism during his junior year as an undergraduate scholar with the German Academic Exchange Service in Germany, where he worked as a freelance writer for The Dallas Morning News. His big break came when he was sent to France in June 2008 to cover a visit by Gov. Rick Perry (R-Texas). As a senior, Mr. McCleskey, who also wrote for the GW Hatchet and the political science quarterly GW Discourse, flew to Madrid over spring break and wrote an opinion column and a travel piece, and says he made the official jump to writing opinions when he began the Fulbright.
“This really is a dream come true —I always wanted to work as a foreign correspondent, and I was very fortunate to have the chance to begin reporting from overseas while still in school,” says Mr. McCleskey, adding that his interest in Europe began with a trip in sixth grade and an eighth grade exchange program in Bavaria. “I just loved the German language, the culture and, of course, the beer,” he adds.
Though he’s written many stories, Mr. McCleskey can pinpoint a few favorites. Almost immediately after the announcements for the science and economic Nobels in October, Mr. McCleskey flew to Stockholm to interview the Swedish Royal Academy of Sciences’ Gunnar Öquist, who is in charge of the Nobel selection process, for a column about how 11 of the 13 Nobel Prize winners were American citizens.
“Sitting in Mr. Öquist’s lavish office, listening to him explain how and why the Nobels are picked was a bit surreal,” says Mr. McCleskey. “After the interview I raced back to my hotel - a yacht docked in downtown Stockholm - and pulled together the column. It was a bit stressful, but I loved every minute of it.”
Mr. McCleskey also singles out an interview with a 25-year-old Texan woman battling cancer in her kidney, lungs and brain, as an experience which forced him to reflect on life priorities, and his recent blog post on the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, in which he states he was "proud" to be an American. And his job also comes with perks — for a column about Oktoberfest and Europe’s drinking problem, Mr. McCleskey received an all-access pass to every beer tent.
Mr. McCleskey says he “learns something new” in each interview and column and gains new perspectives on issues facing citizens on both sides of the Atlantic. With his editors more than 5,000 miles away, Mr. McCleskey also finds his work has made him more independent —which is just fine for the self-described “strong-willed Texan.”
“I am blessed that my editor gives me the freedom to explore ideas and topics that I think are interesting,” says Mr. McCleskey. “Journalism is such a great job — you get to go to places everyone wants to go, talk to people everyone else wants to talk to, and then you get paid to tell everyone about it!”