Molly Ball is the national political correspondent at TIME, TFK’s parent publication. She’s covered many presidential elections. TFK’s Shay Maunz spoke with Ball about her job.
I started covering politics in 2006. Before that, I was a general-assignment news reporter. Technically, my journalism career goes back to the fifth grade, when I started my own newspaper in my neighborhood outside of Denver, Colorado.
As a reporter, my goal is to tell interesting and important stories. And there are a lot of them in politics and government.
In a democracy, it’s up to voters to decide who our nation’s leaders are. To do that, they need reliable information. They need true information that is coming from sources who don’t work for any of the politicians in question, and who aren’t trying to benefit one side or the other. Journalists are only interested in finding out the truth.
Usually, in a presidential election year, I spend a lot of time traveling around the country, following the candidates. On the campaign trail, I talk to voters to see what they’re thinking. I also talk to experts, and to people who know the candidates and can help me understand them. I talk to as many people as possible to figure out what’s going on.
To be honest, it’s no fun. I wish I could be out on the road. In a normal year, I would be on a plane every few days and talking to lots of people. It would be very exciting. Instead, I’ve mostly been sitting at home talking with my sources on the phone. Like everyone else, I’ve been communicating mostly through a screen.
I read a lot of news from different outlets, and I read polls. I talk to people inside the campaigns and listen to the candidates to see what issues they’re emphasizing, what message they’re trying to put out. Then I try to figure out, “Why are they doing that? Why do they think that’s an important thing to communicate to voters?”
The most important thing for a political reporter is for people to feel confident that you’re not rooting for one side or the other, and that you are presenting the truth. You have to prove your credibility by treating everybody fairly. As journalists, we’re tough on politicians because they have a lot of power, and we need to make sure we’re holding them accountable. But we have to be equally tough with everybody in order to be fair.
Read everything you can get your hands on, not just the newspaper. Read fiction, poetry, and nonfiction, to see how language works and to learn more about what’s going on in the world. And write as often as you can.