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2012 Spring Issue 4 (April 27, 2012)

The Journalist's Journey

April 27, 2012
By Jonathan Lin

Last Friday, Congressional correspondent for National Public Radio and Carleton alum David Welna ’80 delivered a convocation presentation titled, “From Carleton to Covering Congress: an Odyssey on Deadline.”

He detailed his journey from his time as a student majoring in Latin American Studies to his life overseas in South America as a budding journalist.

Welna said much of what he does in his career is “emblematic of Carleton’s learning environment, where it’s cool to ask questions.”

“The work of a journalist is not only to ask questions though, because it is a means to an end of getting to the truth and creating a narrative,” he said.

Despite having no journalism classes available at Carleton, Welna praised his liberal arts education for preparing him well and giving him important skills – such as working with fast deadlines, which is crucial to his job.

Welna said he did not start off thinking about journalism as a career, but a visit to D.C. at the height of the Watergate saga in the 70’s brought him face to face with “real-life flesh and blood professional reporters all there before the Supreme Court.”

At Carleton, Welna cited his off-campus study program to Costa Rica as a big influence on his career path. While he examined the productivity of local farmers, Welna found himself wanting to do more with his findings than simply writing them up in an academic paper.

He soon got the opportunity to “turn a strictly academic exercise into a publication” and realized how much he really liked seeing his work in print.

An opportunity to work as a Northfield News reporter writing about the energy shortages during the winter months led to a job in D.C.

“If you’re thinking about journalism,” Welna said of the experience, “keep your clips.”

As a Watson Fellow he traveled through South America, freelancing in Argentina and happening to be “one of the only foreign reporters in the country during the outset of the Falkland Islands conflict.”

Covering this top news story opened him up to opportunities in radio broadcasting and writing feature stories on the war and social turbulence in many Latin American countries.

After 17 years of living and working overseas, becoming a husband and father along the way, Welna returned to the United States, called by NPR to report on Congress full-time.

Asked to give an assessment of the political gridlock that is rapidly fragmenting public trust of Capitol Hill, Welna said that the major debate “essentially boils down to, ‘What is the proper role of the federal government?’ “

After 11 years on the job reporting on Congress, his job remains both extremely exciting and challenging.
Welna reflected on how past events led to his current situation – particularly on Carleton, where he acquired the skills and curiosity that still serve him well in his profession today.

“Remember, everything starts on what has been built so far,” Welna said.

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