Amber Athey is the Washington Editor at Spectator USA and also hosts the Unfit To Print podcast. Amber spoke with me on a phone call, about her career, passions, and advice she has for students looking to get started in the journalism field.
The following interview was edited for clarity and length.
When did you start working for SpectatorUSA?
I think it was in mid-February, my first day was actually up in New Hampshire, at the primary.
Have you been working from home since the pandemic?
Yes, I have, I work from home most days regardless because the Spectator does not have an office in D.C., or really in the US at all.
I’m actually the only person in DC, so I work from home, and, if I need to go cover Congress or the White House, then I’ll usually spend two or three days a week running around DC chasing stories. For the most part, quarantine is not too much different from my daily routine. I haven’t had to adjust too much.
Would you mind talking about what your job entails on a daily basis?
It’s a mix of a lot of different things. As the title would suggest, editor, I do some copy-editing, posting pieces on the website, commissioning articles for either the website or the magazine, coming up with editorial content and ideas. But more so than that, I report. I do cover Congress, the White House. [I’m a credentialed WH reporter.] I was previously a member of the White House Correspondents’ Association when I was with the Daily Caller and I intend to apply for the Spectator but the quarantine has kind of put everything on hold for the time being. I’m covering the 2020 election as well.
I do basically a mix of commentary and reporting for the Spectator. We are primarily a commentary based magazine, but we like to break news as well, so that’s something I’ve been focusing on since I got started here. Just trying to put out more news stories and get scoops and help them establish themselves as they are relatively new in the US.
What’s your favorite part of the job so far?
What I really like about the Spectator is they’re not afraid to be a bit reverent. They’re very funny, they don’t take themselves too seriously and it’s really fun to be able to sort of pick on everyone. Although our magazine is technically conservative, we will criticize everyone equally and make fun of everyone equally, so we don’t have to tow a party line or have some kind of loyalty to any particular person, or politician, or political party. [T]here’s a ton of freedom to really be independent thinkers and speak our minds. I’ve appreciated in all of the articles I’ve written so far being able to have that level of intellectual freedom.
Do you have a particular issue(s) that you’re most passionate about?
Right now it changes every couple of months, depending on what’s in the news cycle. I would say right now [April 2020] based on what’s happening with China and our medical supply chain, I’ve been really focused on bringing manufacturing back to the US, and what exactly that looks like and how that goal would be accomplished.
I covered, a few weeks ago, a story about how the big pharma lobby was opposing an executive order that Trump was looking at called the Buy American Executive Order. [It] would essentially require the Federal government to purchase a certain amount of its medical and pharmaceutical products from companies that were manufacturing them in the United States.
[T]he piece explored why those pharmaceutical companies might be opposed to that and, generally speaking, that’s because they prefer cheaper labor. But the drawback of all of that in the aftermath of the coronavirus, is that we’ve seen shortages of things like personal protective equipment because China has either banned exports or jacked up the prices. They essentially cornered the market on a lot of pharmaceutical products when the outbreak first happened, and now are forcing countries to buy all that equipment back. It’s a good example of what happens when our supply chains are overly outsourced and we don’t have a good amount of diversification or domestic production in order to counter that.
I’ve also been really interested over the past couple of years in immigration because one of the primary places that I would say I got my training was in the Koch world; I was in the Koch Associate program back in 2016. A lot of their philosophy on immigration obviously differs a lot with President Trump and the current administration, where they [Koch] view immigration as necessary for filling jobs that Americans don’t want to do or cheapening the cost of products that Americans buy, things like that. And just in covering this over the past couple of years, I feel there’s actually a lot about that that isn’t true. There are many cases where corporations just want immigrants to come in so they have cheaper labor and not because an American won’t fill the job. There’s so many cases too (this has been really exposed in the Trump Administration) where there are these false claims of asylum or people using fraudulent means to enter the United States, and how that has put our national security at risk. That’s something I’ve been interested in covering as well.
Have you always wanted to go into the journalism field?
No, it was kind of on-accident . When I was in college, I was majoring in government economics and I originally wanted to go into economic policy. One of my favorites internships that I did was actually at the Heritage foundation; it was the summer of 2015 and I was interning in the Roe Institute for Economic Policy. I was helping my advisor create all of these graphs and charts about the Federal Budget and I really enjoyed doing that, but, as I was getting closer to graduation, I found myself having a hard time finding a job in the think-tank world. It’s very rare that positions open up there so I think I had a bit of wishful thinking. I started expanding the types of jobs that I was applying for.
I had written some for my local paper, which is called The Woodsboro Times, it’s just this tiny small town paper. I was writing a monthly political column, and I thought, “Well if these people are willing to publish me, maybe I should apply for some jobs in journalism and see if this shakes out, might be something I’m willing to do after graduation … for a little while before I can find an opening in what I really want to do.” So I ended up applying for all these different newspapers.
I ended up getting an offer from Campus Reform so I went to work there directly after graduation. And after a couple months [of] being there I realized that I really loved journalism, because of the challenge of being first to the story, of the fact that every day was a little bit different. I felt that I was learning so much because I was constantly covering different topics that forced me to research everything I had to learn about that. So it was just a really dynamic and fun environment for me. After about a year, I decided to stick with journalism for the time being, at least right now. I definitely view it as a long-term career.
Do you have any specific role models of people you look up to in the field?
I really respect Mollie Hemingway, she’s an editor at the federalist and her work during the Kavanaugh hearings was really some of the best journalism that we got out of that period…. She was one of the few women that was courageous enough to not openly defend Kavanagh but actually do really stellar reporting. I really respect her for going against the grain and being willing to put herself out there.
I’m not a huge role model person honestly… for me, my role models are my parents. There are tons of people in the industry I respect but role models are a different thing. I just don’t want to idolize everyone, because I think we’re all human and nobody’s perfect. I never agree 100% with pretty much anyone in the media field on anything. There are plenty of people that I think are great reporters and do a good job. John Stossel is a good example, someone who had a long career in mainstream media but has managed to remain really independent[;] he’s a liberatarian, but he’s always questioning the status quo. I pretty much respect anyone who’s willing to go against whatever the prevailing narrative is and try to question authority and the establishment.
Tell me about your podcast?
I have a podcast with the Daily Caller called Unfit to Print. It was something I started about a year ago when I was still working at the Daily Caller. It’s a weekly podcast; I talk about media bias….Essentially I just stand in front of the mic and talk.
I usually have a bulleted list of topics I want to talk about, but I don’t script anything. I try to make it as organic as possible. I film every Thursday or Friday, and the podcast comes out Saturday morning. It’s been really successful, some of the episodes have gotten over 1 million views on The Daily Caller’s facebook page. It’s been really fun to watch it grow, to work on it, and to change it and make it better as time has gone on.
When I first started I knew literally nothing about podcasts; I don’t even listen to podcasts. I was really going into this experience totally blind as to what it took to produce a podcast. Luckily it’s gone really well, I’ve learned a lot, and it’s been a really awesome experience.
Do you have any advice for students hoping to go into the journalism field?
This is like my favorite question because I have what’s considered kind of a mean answer but it’s 100% honest and true. My number one piece of advice for college students who want to go into journalism is that no one cares about your opinions. I say this not to be mean, but because I think there’s a trend among young, especially conservative, college students where they think that their particular experience on campus was really unique and no one else went through the same stuff they did, and therefore their opinion is automatically worthy of being published in places like National Review, the New York Post, or The Spectator even. They kind of get this complex where they’ve been the big fish in a small pond. The media landscape is just not the same as your college campus.
I just recommend that before you start putting your opinions out that you get a bit of experience, and live in the real world for a little while, because it will make whatever you have to say that much more valuable. There are people who have been working in media and reporting for years that don’t feel the need to opine on every topic because they recognize that they don’t know everything. And I was the same way when I was in college, I thought that I needed to share my opinion on every topic. [T]hen, as I got older, I realized I actually don’t know everything and sometimes it’s better to listen more than it is to talk. I also don’t want people to have inflated expectations, I think that’s setting yourself up for failure to expect that you’re going to come out of college and immediately be some glorified commentator at one of the best publications in the country. I just don’t think that’s realistic, you’re setting yourself up for a longer, more fruitful career if you learn how to report, to investigate, and to learn before you try to make yourself into this world-class pundit. Just reading some of the articles that people put out when they’re really young makes me think that some outlets are doing a disservice to them, because some of these things that they write are just really underdeveloped and immature. I worry that that’s going to come back and hurt them later in their careers.
I think we owe it to those kids to help them grow a little bit before we are just willing to publish whatever hot take comes into their head at that moment. I say this from a place of understanding and empathy because I’ve been there too. My number one piece of advice is to try to learn as much as possible, get as much experience, before you have this expectation that everyone needs to listen to you and you’re the gatekeeper of conservatism…things that some of us are inclined to do straight out of college.
What would you say for students who want to learn more about conservative philosophy and values?
There are a ton of great organizations out there that will help you learn. The Collegiate Network through ISI has a fellowship/internship for young conservatives who might want to get involved in journalism. Another good one is The National Journalism Center, they do a very similar program. Although I personally didn’t feel like my experience in the Koch associate program was, although it probably wasn’t intended for it to be, because i actually ended up taking a lot of the opposite positions that they wanted me to … I still felt like it was useful for professional development and I was able to do a lot of reading. They give out tons of free books from people like Hayek, Von Mises, and various other philosophers, which was really great….
I personally am not a huge philosophical person, I tend to align more with gut instincts or whatever modern research has found, studies, listening to people who have lived certain experiences for example. That tends to guide my political philosophy more than reading a lot, which I know is probably a bit unique for a young conservative…. I don’t think we should discount common sense as well. For example, I used to read a lot of that stuff when I was in college and then, as I got a bit older, started seeing how things work in the real world.
Sometimes having a really pinned-down philosophy just isn’t conducive to being pragmatic. And [if] we’re overly principled, sometimes we can make mistakes and miss certain aspects of human suffering or human progress because we’re so worried about abiding to this perfect philosophy. The rise of populism I think is a great example of that, because a lot of conservatives have realized that free market fundamentalism has sold out a lot of American workers….And while I agree on [the] general principle that free markets are good, and of course I embrace capitalism. I think that the events over the past twenty years and how our economy has changed has proven that we can’t take those things as gospel and there has to be some room for competing narratives and different ways of approaching public policy that might not fit exactly into a libertarian view of economics but maybe can lead to more human[s] flourishing.
The views expressed in this article are the opinion of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Lone Conservative staff.