As a freshman, she attended a Daily Pennsylvanian training session. As a sophomore, she spent five nights per week editing. And now, as a 30-year-old reporter for The New York Times, Ashley Parker spends her days and nights on Mitt Romney’s campaign trail.
Parker’s job is to report Romney’s every advancement, tactic and blunder. As a Washington-based reporter, she has been following Romney for the past year.
Covering a campaign is “unlike any other experience,” Parker said.
On the trail
From pursuing the candidate in a motorboat on a lake outside his New Hampshire vacation home to lingering in a Las Vegas casino awaiting his arrival at a fundraiser, Parker and her press team never witness a dull moment.
Parker has been reporting on the Romney campaign since the primary election. “I remember when he was just one of eight candidates,” Parker said. “Now, there is secret service everywhere so it’s very hard to get close to him.”
Parker and other press members travel with Romney on his private charter, following him across the country and overseas. Over the summer, she traveled with the candidate to Poland, Israel and London.
“The cool part of being a reporter on the campaign trail is that I’m working a ton, but everyday is not the same,” she said.
Being constantly on the road, she added that it’s better to do this kind of job “when you’re a little younger, when you have no real responsibilities.”
Though Parker did not foresee a career so heavily involved in politics, she was quite familiar with political culture, having grown up outside of Washington, D.C. Her interest was further cultivated when she reported the 2008 presidential election with New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd.
Of Parker, Dowd said in an email, “Despite her anti-authoritarian streak — which is a great thing for journalists to have but problematic for an assistant — we got to be good friends and had many fun adventures.”
Parker worked with Dowd with for five years — longer than any of Dowd’s other research assistants.
Parker graduated from Penn in 2005 with a degree in English and communication. She began an internship at LIFE magazine immediately after graduation, and then, in September of the same year, was hired as a researcher for Dowd.
In English classes at Penn, her writing already began to shine.
An essay she wrote her senior year of college even made it to the New York Times Sunday magazine one year later in July 2006. Parker was still an editorial assistant to Dowd at the time.
Parker initially wrote the piece for a creative writing course taught by current adjunct English professor and freelance journalist Robert Strauss. Published on the Times website as “The Ling,” Parker’s story cleverly describes her sister’s speaking style of quirky abbreviations.
Strauss noticed his student’s piece as he was reading the Sunday Times. “I said to myself, ‘Hm, that sounds an awful lot like what [Ashley] wrote in my class,’” he said.
Aside from teaching Parker, Strauss also connected her to Times Assistant Managing Editor Richard Berke for an interview in 2005. Coincidentally, Parker’s interview with Berke was the same day that she interviewed with Dowd.
“When I interviewed Ashley, I wasn’t sure at first because she rhapsodized about the Times columnists she loved — and I wasn’t among them,” Dowd said. “She clearly had spark, though, and her clips showed writing flair. So I decided to take a chance.”
To date, Parker has 762 bylines at the Times.
Senior English lecturer Paul Hendrickson is not surprised at Parker’s success. Having taught Parker in two writing classes, Hendrickson noticed that Parker “had what it took to be a great journalist.”
Another of Parker’s professors, contemporary writing professor and author Anthony DeCurtis noted her particular strength in writing profile pieces. DeCurtis explained that Parker’s piece on Philadelphia Daily News photographer Steven Falk was “not just a dutiful profile.”
“She clearly had a sharp eye, a sharp wit,” DeCurtis said.
Dowd also commented on Parker’s profiling abilities. “More than anyone I’ve ever worked with, she has a magical ability to get people to open up. She poses questions based on a genuine curiosity and people begin spilling their most private thoughts,” she said.
On top of her natural writing talent that “you just can’t teach,” Hendrickson said Parker “has the ability to work hard and is a good, likeable person.”
Parker’s legacy at Penn stretches beyond the English department, as she has also left a significant mark on the DP. In addition to contributing to more than 50 DP news stories, Parker spent her senior year editing for 34th Street.
The atmosphere even turned romantic for Parker when she started dating one of her fellow DP colleagues. “My boyfriend was actually an editor with me,” Parker said. “First he was my editor, and then we edited together.”
Reflecting on the careers of her other DP coworkers, Parker believes that she is the only one who actually pursued journalism. She added that she would probably be in better touch with her former DP colleagues if she lived in New York, where she believes most of them reside today.
Parker lived in New York for a short time when she worked at the Times Metropolitan Desk after her time with Dowd. Taking on the Romney campaign, however, brought her back to D.C. and eventually onto the campaign trail.