Seung Min Kim, a White House correspondent for The Washington Post, discussed her political reporting career at a virtual Berkeley Forum event Wednesday.
Currently, Kim reports on the Biden administration, focusing on its interactions with the press and Congress. She previously covered the Trump administration.
Kim’s interest in covering national politics stemmed from her upbringing in Iowa, a state that she said becomes the “center of the political universe” every four years. Kim, who attended the University of Iowa, said presidential campaigns sought a coveted endorsement from The Daily Iowan, the university’s student newspaper she worked at.
“That was a really great privilege that I had — being able to cover these big politicians who would swing by Iowa,” Kim said during the event. “I got to cover the aftermath of the 2004 caucuses when I was a freshman and still not completely sure how the caucus worked.”
On the night of the 2004 Iowa caucuses, Kim recalled being “awed” by the number of reporters who had traveled from all over the world to witness the moment. Her experiences as a student reporter fueled her interest in political journalism.
Kim credits local newspapers for building the foundation of her career. After graduating, Kim became a reporter for The Star-Ledger newspaper in New Jersey, where she dealt with local politicians and covered public meetings and trials.
Even then, Kim sensed that the journalism industry was changing.
Rather than following the traditional career path of some political reporters — starting at local newspapers and moving on to larger ones with Washington correspondents — Kim opted to attend graduate school at American University in Washington, D.C.
Upon completing her graduate degree, she went on to work for Politico for more than eight years before landing her current and “dream job” at The Washington Post.
Covering comprehensive immigration reform in Congress for Politico helped Kim develop a network of sources on Capitol Hill and become acquainted with a core group of lawmakers, including former U.S. Senator John McCain.
“On a personal level, I just find immigration reform fascinating; it is a humanitarian issue, it is a social issue, it is an economic issue, and is just such a complicated issue,” Kim said at the event. “I just really think it’s important for journalists to be able to take complicated topics … to explain it in a digestible way for readers.”
When asked how to develop connections with sources, Kim emphasized the importance of establishing oneself as a fair and trustworthy reporter who tells the most comprehensive version of the truth that can be delivered on deadline.
While tough coverage is a part of political reporting, Kim said her personal philosophy is to be a “straight-shooter” and not blindside people.
“If it’s going to be a bad or tough story on you, I will let you know,” Kim said during the event. “As reporters, it is really incumbent upon us to be as honest as possible in our reporting process.”