Over the course of her 30-year career, Laura S. Washington has seen politics as both an outsider and from within.
As such, the political columnist for the Chicago Sun-Times and political analyst for ABC-7 News, Washington offers a unique perspective of the current presidential race and the state of journalism in the digital age.
In 1985, she served as deputy press secretary for Mayor Harold Washington.
Washington had spent the previous four years as editor of the Chicago Reporter where she got her first taste of professional political writing.
But from the inside, she gained a broader view of journalism by seeing it from the candidate’s perspective.
“Working with Mayor Washington was eye opening for me because I got a chance to see firsthand how politics work,” she said. “The dynamics of both good and bad journalism when covering Mayor Washington were both being practiced on the mayor.”
Washington says that despite the toll that online media outlets are taking on newspapers and print journalism, she feels that the quality of reporting remains strong.
“It used to be a time when there were only two or three papers competing amongst each other for readers,” said Washington.
“Now, because of the competition with other online news sources and the fact that stories can break as quickly as posting an update on Twitter, reporters have been forced to put more thought and diligence into their reporting in order to stay ahead of their competition.”
Nevertheless, Washington adds that new media does indeed have its drawbacks as well.
“The bad thing about journalism today is that a lot of what’s online is basically just opinion,” said Washington.
“It can be difficult for the reader to distinguish between serious political reporting and biased commentary. It used to be a time when a reporter would never write an un-sourced story unless it was an extreme situation. Now a lot of gossip and speculation passes for serious journalism and analysis.”
Washington sees several parallels in both the political philosophies and media handling of Mayor Washington and current President Barack Obama.
“Both saw their political careers shaped by their community outreach,” said Washington. “And both were adorned by the media initially by being the first African-Americans to be elected to their respective positions. However, both were harmed by perhaps promising more than what was possible at the time. If Mayor Washington had lived through his second term, I think disillusionment would have begun to set in.”
She says that if Obama is indeed re-elected, he will need to lay out an agenda that addresses the nation’s least discussed problem.
“Poverty,” says Washington. “I think Dr. Cornel West and Tavis Smiley are absolutely correct. This entire campaign cycle has been focused on the middle-class and how to strengthen it. But there has been hardly any discussion of the poor. That must be corrected if president Obama is elected to a second term. For all the accomplishments of his first term, one of the failures has been the explosion of poverty in this country.”
Washington is pushing for Obama to win his final election, but says his legacy is secure even if he only serves one term.
“The historical nature of his election cannot be taken away,” she said. “I think he will still leave an indelible mark, win or lose. He did get Osama Bin Laden, he passed healthcare reform, he ended the Iraq war. These are all important accomplishments. However, his failure was his inability to work effectively with Congress and change the tone in Washington. That could be what inspires voters to take a chance on Gov. [Mitt] Romney.”
Born the first of two children to a working class family – her mother was a library aide and her father a mailman – Washington grew up on Chicago’s Southwest Side.
She attended Academy of Our Lady High School and afterward Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism where she received both her B.A. and M.B.A. degrees in journalism.
She worked with Mayor Washington’s campaign until his passing in 1987. She also worked as a producer for investigative unit CBS 2-Chicago, as well as, a professor at Ida B. Wells-Barnett University.