Aug. 1, 2014 SIGN IN | REGISTER

Hill Climbers: An Arizonan Returns East

Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call
With news and politics in her blood, Johnson finds excitement on Capitol Hill as director of communications for Kirkpatrick.

With a grandfather who was a state Supreme Court justice and a politically interested and active family, Jennifer Johnson was on a career path well before she even knew it.

Born and raised in Arizona, Johnson first came to Washington, D.C., to study public policy journalism at American University.

From her early days as an intern at the Library of Congress, to her years spent as an editor covering Washington, to her new role as communications director for Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick, D-Ariz., Johnson has come to love the District and life on the Hill.

News and politics were in her blood. While most kids would do anything to avoid reading the news, Johnson was excited by what was happening in Washington, even as a child.

“I would run out on the driveway, still in my pajamas, to get the morning paper — just to rifle through it and see what the headlines were,” she said. “I loved news, and I loved the written word, and I loved front pages.”

Johnson grew up admiring the idealism of Robert F. Kennedy and often wondered what could have been, had history taken a different turn. But with adulthood came another hero, former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, and another story of what could have been.

“For two decades, I’ve been inspired by her brilliance, her resilience and especially her leadership on human rights,” she said. “To me, Hillary is the gold standard.”

Johnson secured a job as an assistant editor at the Federal Times as the Internet was beginning to change the way the news business worked and how journalists did their jobs.

As a younger employee who knew more about these changes than some of her older colleagues, Johnson became an invaluable resource to the newsroom, taking courses in HTML and training her older colleagues.

This new world of opportunity interested Johnson so much that she took a position at PBS Online before spending another decade working her way up to become the page one editor at The Arizona Republic, the state’s largest daily newspaper.

“Working with colleagues to figure out the most powerful images, the most compelling headlines, the most relevant and impactful stories for your readers, day in, day out — that’s a dance that is fascinating,” she said.

But Johnson also saw some of The Arizona Republic’s darkest days, when money became a problem and newsrooms struggled.

“I saw the writing on the wall, and there was the opportunity to go into a political job in Arizona, and so I took it,” Johnson said.

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