By Colleen Otte
Michigan State University alumna Celeste Bott said the favorite story she reported for the Knight Center’s Great Lakes Echo is one about the salvaging of an enormous, historic grain storage elevator.
The primary advocate and source was a former reporter for the Chicago Tribune, the publication where she is now working.
“Believe it or not,” laughed Bott, who is a statehouse reporting intern for the Chicago Tribune, a position that is part of her pursuit of a masters degree from the University of Illinois’ public affairs reporting program.
“I remember that story,” said David Poulson, who edits Great Lakes Echo. “It was a good yarn and well told.
“I think we may have thrown Celeste into the deep end of the pool on environmental issues but she quickly learned to swim,” said Poulson, the senior associate director of the Knight Center. “I’m not a bit surprised to learn how well she is doing.”
Bott was hired just before the holidays and started the new gig at the beginning of January.
“I cover the state legislature and they just got back into session the second week of January, so it’s starting to pick up around here,” she said.
Bott works in Springfield, the capital of Illinois, with the bureau chief. They collaborate with several political reporters in Chicago whose expertise involves covering the city hall, mayor and issues with Chicago public schools.
“We’re the legislative team – we all work together on big state issues,” she said. “They’ll pipe in with the mayor’s perspective and the Chicago perspective and then we’re down here with all the lawmakers, so it’s a big, collaborative team.”
Bott said she first became interested in state government and politics by participating in MSU’s Capital News Service under Eric Freedman, the director of both the Knight Center and CNS. Next, she reported for the Great Lakes Echo, where she said she’s glad she spent so much time learning to cover science and the environment because they “bleed into all the other beats.”
“I know that the Chicago Tribune and papers all over are following the Flint water crisis, and I think it goes to show how something like lead in the water can actually become a policy and government issue,” Bott said. “It all ties together because man and the environment have to coexist.”
She said that speaking with scientists and grappling with their jargon helped prepare her for interviewing lawmakers and lobbyists who also may not be used to using laymen’s terms.
After Echo, Bott completed an internship with Bridge Magazine, where she did some political writing, and then worked for Gongwer News Service covering the Michigan legislature. Additionally, she reported for and became editor-in-chief of The State News.
This past summer, Bott interned for the Washington Monthly in Washington, D.C., trying her hand at social media management.
“That was very different, and I realized how much I missed writing and the day-to-day grind,” she said. “If you try a bunch of different things and get started as early as you can, you can figure out what you love to do, and you can also figure out what you don’t want to do. And that’s just as valuable sometimes.”
That is the best piece of advice she said she could give MSU students: start working as early as possible, even for campus media. Her job at the Chicago Tribune has really been four or five years in the making, she said.
“I had the opportunity to cover Barack Obama – how many 19-year-olds can say that?” she said. “Sometimes at these smaller things, you actually get more opportunities to learn and build a portfolio, and then when you’re applying for higher-level jobs like the Chicago Tribune, you have this very diverse range of experience you can pull from.”