The Office of Press Relations at the U.S. Department of State is the hub of media activity at the Department. It works directly with journalists to disseminate the Department and Secretary’s messages to the media and the public concerning U.S. foreign policy. It also helps staff the Secretary’s events and travel, whether domestic or abroad.
As an intern, I’ve had the opportunity to really get to know how the Department functions. I also helped staff multiple events, such as the roll out of the 2019 Trafficking in Persons Report, the Ministerial to Advance Religious Freedom, and the 230th anniversary of the Department of State. While working, I have met dignitaries from different countries and helped members of the press gain access to cover events.
While these major events were interesting to experience, and they change based on administration, the main day-to-day functions are consistent and what keeps the office running. Much of my job consisted of working with journalists to understand the major topics of the day and delivering those queries to the various bureaus’ Public Affairs Officers. They delivered their guidance to the spokesperson on those queries so then she is ready to answer them at the podium on press briefing days. On days the spokesperson and Secretary traveled, I compiled the virtual guidance into a memo and sent it to the officer director, who delivered it to the spokesperson.
As the press office, it’s the outreach team’s job to set up interviews for the Secretary. This includes knowing who is interviewing him. Part of my job as an intern was to write short biographies of journalists who were interviewing him, and draft that into a memo for his front office.
Much of my internship allowed me the opportunity to shadow press officers and understand the rotations they do in their jobs. Each officer has a different task every day, and through my time at the Department, I now have a better understanding of each. The Fourth Estate continues to be one of the most important pillars of democracy, even when leadership doesn’t always see it that way.
While we’re in a tumultuous time with the way the government interacts with the media, my few months at the Department of State Office of Press Relations showed that, regardless of the message coming from the heads of the departments, there are truly good people doing important work in these agencies. The collaborative effort by the press office and the journalists showed that there doesn’t need to be animosity between the groups, and there’s much more room for understanding than it looks like from the outside.