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Media's Role in the Public Perception of National Security

Careers in Science From the Field

Ashley Gauthier is the Associate General Counsel for U.S. News & World Report. In addition, she has worked as litigation associate for Simone Roberts & Weiss, P.A. and Hatch Allen & Shepherd, P.A. In addition, she teaches a course entitled "Legal Aspects of Communication" at American University and is a board member of The Media Institute's First Amendment Advisory Council. Ms. Gauthier received a BA in philosophy and political science at the University of Massachusetts and then obtained a JD at Pepperdine University.

What is your profession?

Associate General Counsel, US News & World Report
Also, I am adjunct faculty at American University. I teach a course entitled Legal Aspects of Communication.

What are the responsibilities of your position?

I review all articles & books published by US News to identify any potential legal issues. I consult with writers, editors, and other lawyers to discuss any legal concerns that might arise. I review artwork as well as text. I try to minimize the risk of being sued for libel, invasion of privacy, copyright or trademark infringement, or other claims. I also help reporters with FOIA requests and can answer questions about other, miscellaneous legal issues.

Can you describe a typical week in your position?

At the beginning of the week I get a "mock up" of what the magazine will look like. As articles are finished, I read them. If there are any potential problems, I confer with the appropriate sources. Thursdays and Fridays are the busiest days because all articles must "close" on those days. ("Closing" means they are sent to the printers.) We also publish special books, so to the extent any special articles are released, I review them.

What are the most important personal satisfactions connected with your occupation? dissatisfactions?

Satisfactions: We often publish investigative reports. Some are quite controversial. But I am able to ensure that the magazine's First Amendment rights are protected. I help to ensure that we disseminate information about important issues to the public while minimizing the risk of being financially damaged by a needless lawsuit. Also, I work with great people.

Dissatisfactions: None really, at least not for me. But this job can be very stressful if you cannot work well under deadlines, if you take disagreements too personally, or if you can't forget about work once it's done.

What part of this job do you personally find most satisfying? Most challenging?

Personally, my favorite part of the job is the educational aspect, answering general legal questions and providing information that helps others in their research. The most challenging aspect is thinking clearly under tight deadlines.

What is the greatest benefit of working in this field?

It's fun and the hours are not too demanding.

What are the biggest challenges facing your field?

Access to information. Government agencies, both federal and state, are reluctant to release information, and that makes it harder for journalists to get useful, accurate information to the public - - especially about sensitive issues, like national security, terrorism, and corruption in government agencies.

What are the skills that are most important for a position in this field?

Ability to work well with others is crucial. No power trips, no know-it-all attitudes. Plus, you need all the basic skills any lawyer needs, such as the ability to read and think quickly, and the ability to memorize vast quantities of laws and cases pertaining to your field. Also, you need to understand journalism ethics. Some things that are ethical can get you sued, and some things that are technically legal would be considered unethical. You have to be able to deal with both issues.

What kind of experience, paid or unpaid, would you encourage someone to gain if s/he is interested in pursuing a career in this field?

You need to understand both journalism and law. I would recommend working in media (even if it's just at a college newspaper) and as a litigator. You need litigation experience to understand what factors are important in a lawsuit. Also, you need some experience with pre-publication review, which can be obtained either in a law firm environment if the firm has media clients or by working in-house at a paper. If you can get an internship or fellowship at one of the media law organizations, that would be great. The media law organizations I would recommend are the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press or the Student Press Law Center in Washington, DC, or the Media Law Resource Center in NYC.

What type of education background is required?

Obviously, you would need a law degree. It may also help to have an undergraduate degree in journalism, but that's not necessary.

What are the typical entry-level job titles and functions? What entry-level jobs are best for learning as much as possible?

Large media organizations usually hire lawyers that already have some experience, although I suppose it is possible that a company might hire a new lawyer to train from scratch. You can obtain good experience at a law firm that has a media law division, such as Baker & Hostetler, Davis Wright Tremaine, or Levine Sullivan & Koch. (There are many other firms that have media practices - those are merely a few examples.) Your job title would probably be "associate" attorney, and you would be expected to work on any type of case assigned to you. You might defend libel cases or have a chance to review some articles, but as a new attorney, you have to do a lot of basic research and writing. You rarely get a chance to go to court or deal directly with clients unless you work for a particularly small or progressive firm. You might also consider an internship or fellowship at one of the media law non-profits I mentioned above. Also, you can get great experience if you can work for a small, local paper. Although not all local papers can afford to pay for a full-time lawyer, they would probably be willing to pay for a few hours of pre-publication review each month, or perhaps you can volunteer your services for a small start-up. If you are interested in the field, the best thing to do is talk to as many people in the industry as you can to find out where the opportunities are.

What are the salary ranges for various levels in this field? Is there a salary ceiling?

Salaries vary by location and job. The staring salary for full-time attorneys at big firms in large cities is about $120,000. But in a medium-sized city, a starting lawyer might make only $80,000, or less. In small cities, salaries can start as low as $30,000. Partners at large firms can make hundreds of thousands of dollars, or even millions, each year. But those are the exceptions. Most lawyers probably earn somewhere between $50,000 and $300,000. The National Law Journal issues a report each year that outlines lawyers salaries at law firms. I would recommend that as a resource.

What special advice do you have for a student seeking to qualify for this position?

Cultivate good connections with people in the field. You need to be qualified in terms of education and experience, but you also need to know people, because media law jobs are not as plentiful as other types of legal jobs. In-house jobs are comparatively rare.

Submitted by: Matt Mosgin, 2003 Summer Intern