When Ian Jannetta was a kid, he wanted to be a weatherman.
He moved on from that ambition in middle school to a slightly different career path — journalism. Although his love of meteorology persisted, in high school he became — like so many other future Hill staffers — a political news junkie. Now he’s press secretary for the Joint Economic Committee.
Jannetta began interning at news organizations while studying political communication at George Washington University. He started out at NPR’s “Morning Edition” as a sophomore, but by his senior year he decided to intern in the press office of Bob Casey, D-Pa., one of his home-state senators. “I saw all of the things I would like about being a reporter,” he said of being a press secretary. “I think journalists are public servants just as much as Hill staffers.”
After earning his bachelor’s degree in 2010, Jannetta got his feet wet in the professional political world by working at political polling firm Hart Research Associates. He helped run focus groups and learned about the symbiosis among nonprofits, interest groups and lawmakers.
“I became much more skeptical when reading ads, op-eds and speeches,” he said, “because I understood the coordination between messaging and research.”
Later that year he returned to Casey’s office as a deputy press secretary. Working closely with Casey helped Jannetta capture his voice when drafting editorials and speeches, he said. Between writing press releases on Asian carp and Iran sanctions, he traveled to Pennsylvania, watching the senator hold press conferences and chat with constituents. Constituent work quickly became his favorite part of the job and affirmed his faith in Congress. “Getting out of the D.C. bubble, seeing what real people care about — it’s remarkably nonpartisan,” he said. “When you go up to Erie or Scranton, it’s very refreshing to be able to talk about an issue and not have it be about partisan politics but about affecting change on the ground.”
That’s the atmosphere in which Jannetta grew up. One spring Sunday after attending church in Harrisburg, Pa., Jannetta and his family visited D.C. to see the cherry blossoms. As they walked behind the White House, they watched President Bill Clinton’s helicopter land on the South Lawn. Seeing the president in person was momentous. For the first time, he considered our political leaders and their effect on the government.
“As a kid, you think of the president as this far-removed figure who almost isn’t real,” he said. “It’s was a chilling moment, as a kid, to know that government is run by real people — to have this closeness with your leaders.”
Now he’s even closer. At this critical juncture in the fiscal cliff negotiations, lawmakers and others depend on his new employer — the Joint Economic Committee — to help provide them with the best information on taxes and entitlements. A key task for him is to develop relationships with reporters, draft press releases and work with economists to disseminate the committee’s work to the press.
Such relationships are critical to Hill success, Jannetta said, and that informs his advice to aspiring staffers — internships and mentors were crucial elements in his rise. “The unpaid internship, while difficult to live through, is worth the effort and the sacrifice,” he said.
And his mentors in Casey’s office played an important role in helping him navigate his first two years as a staffer.
“My best friends began as personal mentors,” he said. “It’s important to recognize someone who cares about your future.”
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An earlier version of this article misstated the news organization for which Jannetta first interned. It was NPR's "Morning Edition."