People in Hollywood refer to the phenomenon that all individuals can be linked through mutual relationships as the “six degrees of Kevin Bacon.” But on Capitol Hill, it’s just described as a typical day in Washington.
“Right now I’m working for a Senator who was the director of the program that allowed me to come to D.C. for the first time, which is what made me fall in love with politics and the city,” said Faryl Ury, press secretary for Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.). “It really has come full circle for me.”
The program that first led Ury to Washington was a 2004 internship with ABC’s political blog, the Note. The Harvard University alumna received a scholarship from the school’s Institute of Politics, later directed by her current boss, Shaheen, in order to finance her summer stint in the city.
Ury was inspired by her time in D.C. and made her way back as an on-air reporter for National Public Radio in 2008. Seven months later, the 26-year-old moved over to the Associated Press to develop social media strategies, where she stayed for more than two years.
“I really liked my other job, so I didn’t want to leave unless it was a really good opportunity,” she said. “But I’ve always had it in the back of my mind that it would be exciting to work on Capitol Hill.”
The New Hampshire Democrat hired Ury in December 2010. Since her first day on the job, Ury has made an effort to incorporate her radio and television experience into her dual role as press secretary and new media director for Shaheen.
One of her first priorities was to use more video footage in the office’s communication strategy, which she said has already received positive feedback.
“One constituent wrote us a letter saying, ‘I’m not a TV watcher, but thanks for the embedded video. I’ve gotten to see the Senator a lot more,’” Ury said. “It was nice for me to hear after only being here two weeks.”
Other items on the Florida native’s agenda include increasing Shaheen’s use of social media. When some quotes don’t necessarily warrant a press release, Ury will just distribute the information through a Facebook status. When someone tags the Senator in a Twitter post, Ury tries to reply back as thoroughly and often as possible.
But aside from social media, Ury has also had to fulfill her job as a press secretary, which includes speaking with the press and preparing talking points for Shaheen.
Ury’s own experience as a journalist — she wrote for the Harvard Crimson and later received a master’s degree in journalism from Northwestern University — has made her more sensitive to reporters’ deadlines, while her experience in television production has allowed her to anticipate questions that might be asked of her boss.
“Today the Senator is doing an interview at a TV station, and she’s being interviewed by a producer, so I had to sit there and say, ‘OK, a few months ago I was that producer. What questions would I ask?’” she said. “So we’ll see at 3:15 this afternoon if I was right!”
Drawing on past experiences isn’t a novel concept for Ury. She uses similar creative thinking to aide her in a self-professed love for rap and hip-hop music; Ury has been known to push her way to the front of a crowd and even dance onstage with the artist.
“One time I went to a Jay-Z concert, and I knew in past concerts he thanked people in the audience,” she said. “So I brought a red umbrella, and when he was thanking people I starting waving it around, and he said, ‘I see you girl with the red umbrella. Thank you for coming!’”
Now that she’s got her footing on Capitol Hill, Ury plans to work her way to the top just like she works her way to the front of a concert. One personal mentor who has inspired her along the way has been Kathleen Matthews, former news anchor and wife of Chris Matthews.
“I remember her saying, ‘I stayed in D.C., I worked my way up here and I even found Chris Matthews along the way,’” Ury said. “So my thought is that I’m on Capitol Hill, I’ve had some great experiences and now I’m just waiting for that last piece of the puzzle: my Chris Matthews.”
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James Jones, communications director for DC Vote, tapes a "DC Constituents Service Day" sign on the wall as he stands with other DC residents outside of Rep. Andy Harris's office on Capitol Hill to protest Harris' actions against D.C.'s marijuana laws on Thursday, July 24, 2014. DC Vote encouraged DC residents to bring their complaints about city services to the Maryland congressman.