My Friends Do Cool Things: Reporter Serena Marshall Covers Politics For ABC, Hangs With FLOTUS

Author’s note: This is part of an ongoing series profiling some of the incredible things my friends are doing.
serenaheadshotI met Serena last spring, when we both flew into Seattle for a bachelorette party for a mutual friend. Spending 48 hours straight with someone in a cabin the woods is a pretty good way to get to know her, and I instantly liked her. She was funny, easygoing and had some amazing stories from her job as a reporter/producer at ABC News (when we met up, she had just returned from Cuba, which was not something people were doing in spring of 2015). Immediate girl crush.

I jumped at the chance to interview her for this series, and she was nice enough to carve out some time for me in the middle of election season. Let’s dig in.

What does your role as a reporter/producer at ABC News entail?
I’m based out of Washington, D.C., and cover the White House beat and long-term stories for ABC News, including Obamacare, immigration, Cuba, Baltimore and the Zika virus. I handle pretty much every aspect of getting a story ready for broadcast, from forming the story to conducting interviews, and even shooting.

President Obama departs Andrews Air Force Base, Md, to address the NAACP's 106th national convention in Philadelphia Convention Center, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Tuesday, July, 14, 2015. (by Doug Mills/ The New York Times)

President Obama departs Andrews Air Force Base, Md, to address the NAACP’s 106th national convention in Philadelphia Convention Center, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Tuesday, July, 14, 2015. (by Doug Mills/ The New York Times)

How did you get started with ABC?
During undergrad, I was journalism and pre-med because I always knew I wanted to get into medical reporting. Right after school, I spent a couple years working for the National Cancer Institute before I moved to NYC to work with ABC. I produced the ‘Medical Minute’ digital program with ABC’s Chief Health and Medical Editor, Dr. Richard Besser. My husband was in D.C. at the time, so I eventually left NYC and moved to D.C. and transitioned into a role as a general assignment journalist. After a year or so, I received an offer to transition to politics. It wasn’t something I ever imagined I’d get into, but I jumped at the opportunity to try something new, and in D.C., it’s impossible to stay away from politics for too long. I started covering immigration — that was my start in 2013.

What’s it like covering politics, especially during such a heated election season?
Well, I’m not one of the campaign embeds, who are on the campaign trail 24/7. That’s exciting, but also exhausting. But I love covering politics. I was drawn to medical reporting because I heard more Americans get medical info from the news than doctors, which is fascinating. It’s kind of the same situation with politics — when that’s your beat, you have this ability to educate the public and help them understand. And that’s always the goal – to give people information, to shine a light on topics they might not consider otherwise, and ultimately to help people make decisions for themselves. Every time I walk into the White House, I try to make myself pause and appreciate the fact that I’m walking into a building representing American ideals and what we are as a country. Covering politics is a big responsibility.

What’s it like being a part of the media when suddenly you’re hearing the term “mass media” used so negatively this election season?
As a professional, I take seriously my responsibility to look at things from both sides and to present the facts in a way that people can understand to make their own decisions. Every single person I work with is the same way. This piece sums up my feelings on the issue well.

On the helicopter in Saudi Arabia

On the helicopter in Saudi Arabia

What’s been your favorite experience on the job?
This business moves so fast, and you’re always on to the next story, but there are highlights I’ll never forget. I was on the ground in Cuba the day announcement was made to restore diplomatic ties, in Boston when they captured Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, on the ground after Hurricane Sandy. What I remember so vividly are the moments in the field, talking to the people.

And I was the pool producer for a recent press trip overseas with President Obama. You’re working 25 hours a day, but on that trip, I was with the President when he went to Kensington Palace, flying behind him in a helicopter in Saudi Arabia, etc. It was a whirlwind and absolutely amazing experience to cover.

What’s something that would surprise people about your job?
How much we do now. Back in the day, the job was very specific — you were a videographer, a writer, a reporter. Now, all those tasks are on one person. It’s also not as glamorous as you would expect. When Snowmageddon hit, my friends were drinking spiked cocoa, but I was standing in the middle of the blizzard producing and reporting.

serenafieldWho’s your favorite interview?
That’s hard to pick. Everything moves so quickly that you don’t have time to reflect on it until you are on to the next one. But just last month, I was with Bob Woodruff when he interviewed Michelle Obama and Laura Bush about veterans, which was a really personal interview and great to see two first ladies of different parties coming together to talk about a serious issue.  And on a different level, I interviewed Paula Abdul and had a total fan girl moment – she was my favorite when I was young.

I also have favorite experiences. Doing ride-alongs with border patrol in Arizona, going to a cartel stronghold in Mexico, seeing the palaces in Saudi Arabia that aren’t open to the public.

Will we see you at a news desk some day?
That’s the next step, but I really do love being in the field. You’ll have to tune in to find out!

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