NISD: Alumni Answers: Haley Britzky, journalist and Byron Nelson grad
Haley Britzky graduated from Byron Nelson High School in 2013 before attending Texas Tech University later that year. So how did she end up in the nation’s capital after spending so long in Texas? A passion for journalism.
Ms. Britzky currently works as a reporter for Axios, where she writes about issues affecting the United States both domestically and abroad. Part of her focus is reporting on national security as well as politics in general.
While at Byron Nelson, Ms. Britzky was a member of the Dazzlers drill team and theatre program, where she says she learned lessons that still contribute to who she is today.
You currently work for Axios, an online news outlet covering national politics and related matters. What led you into this line of work?
I’m loud and I talk too much, it was the natural path for me! Kidding – although that certainly helps. I knew I wanted to go into journalism after a class I took my freshman year of college. A guest speaker was telling us about a story he reported, exposing some government secrets and various corrupt activities. I remember thinking, “This is what I want to do for the rest of my life.” It was the easiest decision I ever made. I’m also a huge First Amendment nerd – I can go on and on about the value of a free press and the importance of holding the powerful accountable.
Part of being a journalist is cultivating sources, following leads and doing research. What’s your process for obtaining information like when you’re assigned or researching a potential story?
Call everyone and anyone I can think of. I start with sources I’m familiar with and know I can speak candidly with to ask any questions I have at the start. Then I ask them to suggest other people I should be speaking with, and then ask those people who they would suggest, and so on. I also look up what other people have written on the topic, and any research that’s been done. For a lot of reporters I know, including myself, the reporting process is usually a back-and-forth between “I am the worst reporter, this is the worst story,” and “I should win a Pulitzer for this!”
Do you ever put in a lot of work talking to sources and following tips and leads only for a story to fall through?
More frequently than I’d like! Sometimes I’ll have an idea for a story that I’m really excited about, and as I start talking to sources I realize it’s a dead-end, or it’s actually not nearly as interesting as I thought it would be. It’s always disappointing when that happens, but you can’t make a story from thin air.
Living in Washington, D.C., is certainly a departure from the area you grew up. What are the benefits of being in the nation’s capital, and what are some of the things you miss from home?
One of the major benefits is having the privilege to do what I want to do – cover national security – and I knew there was no better place to be than right in the heart of it all. It’s not only advantageous for my job – talking with lawmakers and attending briefings and meetings in-person makes a big difference – it’s also an amazing city. I feel grateful to be here every single day. There are so many things I miss from home, though! Of course being so far from family and friends is hard, and not to mention the food…they don’t have Tex-Mex mastered up here, to put it lightly.
At Byron Nelson, you were involved in the Dazzlers drill team. What did you take away from being involved in an extracurricular activity?
Time management is a big one. Natalie Eddleman, my Dazzlers coach, always taught us to be on time, if not early, to everything. And I’m so glad she did! I’m early to almost every meeting, every interview, every lunch; you never know who you might meet when you’re one of the only other people in the room or at the table. I was also involved in theatre which has been hugely beneficial for things like public speaking and going on cable news. Both of these activities taught me to project confidence and self-assurance, and you’d be surprised how many places you can go and people you can talk to if you look like you know what you’re doing.
Do you keep in touch with any of your former teachers? If so, how?
I do on Facebook, but I wish I did more. All of the teachers I had were so influential in building me into the woman I am today, in so many different ways. I owe them a lot.
What advice do you have for students who may be interested in becoming journalists?
Work hard and don’t be a jerk. It sounds simple, but arrogance and laziness will get you nowhere but out the door. Also, read as much as you can about everything you have an interest in. There is a huge world of information out there and it’s never been so available – take advantage of it! Read news from a number of sources, and have an open mind; don’t be afraid to change your opinion, and to admit you were wrong or that you don’t know something.