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Jennifer Rios: Washington Confidential

December 11, 2007

As one of only five students nationally with a spring internship in the prestigious Scripps Howard Foundation’s Semester in Washington Program, ASU senior journalism major Jennifer Rios is getting real world experience in the District of Columbia, the news-making capital of the world.

Take, for example, President George W. Bush’s last state-of-the-union address. Rios was there, doing a profile on Marine 1st Lt. Andrew Kinard, who sat in first lady Laura Bush’s box during the speech.

Kinard lost both legs to an Iraqi bomb blast in October of 2006. Since then, he has undergone 48 medical procedures with, as Rios quoted him, “a few more left.”

“This was one of my favorite stories so far, probably because it involved a profile,” Rios said. “I love learning about people and getting them to open up.”

During her four-month stay in Washington, D.C., Rios is learning about more than people, whether it’s mastering the Washington Metro system, covering a congressional hearing or attending a National Press Club luncheon with some of the nation’s top journalists.

Rios has covered an anti-abortion rally and march on the anniversary of the Roe v. Wade decision. She has written stories on gender violence, on speeches at the National Press Club, on Social Security and vulnerable beneficiaries and on an upcoming National Archives exhibition on the works of the late political cartoonist Clifford K. Berryman (1869-1949)

“The main difference in reporting here, compared to San Angelo, is the pace of life,” Rios said. “I may only complete a few stories a week, but everything happens so much quicker here. Interviews must be snatched up before that person leaves your sight because you may not see or hear from him or her again.

“And, while there are individuals who are friendly and helpful,” she said, “there are also those who have no interest in you if your business card doesn’t say you’re from the (Washington) Post or the (New York) Times.” 

Even though the internship has bumped her planned May graduation back to the fall, it was an opportunity Rios could not pass up just like she seldom passes up a chance to broaden her experience. Few students are as driven or as good at multi-tasking as Rios, who in addition to keeping her studies up often worked multiple jobs at ASU while finding the time to bake the occasional cheesecake for her professors or co-workers.

When she arrived on campus in 2004 as a freshman, she immediately sought a job in the News and Publications Office, answering telephones, clipping newspapers and handling the odd jobs that fall the lot of student employees.

She started as an English major but then switched to journalism, attracted by its practicality, whether writing for a newspaper or a Web site. 

Almost immediately, she volunteered for the Ram Page and in the ensuing years covered everything from student organizations to the university’s presidential search.  She would go on to become copy editor, managing editor and editor her senior year. With a little journalism experience under her belt, she earned an internship at the San Angelo Standard-Times, a Scripps Howard paper, and continues to do stories on assignment for the publication.

While she wrote features and covered breaking news for the Standard-Times, Rios developed a fondness for one type of story.

“I really liked writing obits,” Rios said. “Some might find that odd, but I enjoyed writing the stories of their lives and even had some families call me to thank me for the job I had done.”

Though she was drawn to journalism through the writing, her classroom and work experience has broadened her perspective on the field.

“The No. 1 lesson I have learned,” Rios said, “is that writing is really a small part of the job.  Meeting people, making contacts, presenting yourself well, being observant and not taking things at face value are all just as important to success.”

Rios attributes her success to her ASU professors, who “really care about their students,” and her parents, each contributing in different ways to her success.

From her father Jose Luis Rios, she got her interest in journalism, following in his footsteps at the Ram Page where he was sports editor and at the Standard-Times where he was a reporter. He went on to work 13 years with the Washington Post and is today director of photography for the Miami Herald.

“He was excited to learn I was going to Washington,” Rios said, “because he knows what a great city it is for journalists.”

From her mother Julie Rodriquez, she received a reality check that helped develop her strong work ethic.

“My mother taught me that I was always replaceable,” Rios said, “and that I needed to work hard and do a good job. I always had a job, at least one, since I was 13.  I learned that when there wasn’t enough time in the day to do all I wanted to do, I had to do several things at once.”

“The multi-tasking thing is a big part of me,” she said. “I get antsy when I have down time.”

With so much to write about and see in Washington, Rios will be anything but antsy this spring.