This summer, four Annenberg doctoral students are in Washington, D.C., participating in the COMPASS Summer Fellowship Program, which is designed to provide Ph.D. students in Communications and Media Studies with hands-on experience in the development and implementation of communication policy. COMPASS fellows intern for two months in D.C. at government offices or agencies, think tanks, political party or advocacy organizations, or other communication-related public or private sector institutions. Professor Mark Lloyd coordinates the program for Annenberg.
Every few weeks, we'll post a new "Dispatch from D.C." to share how each student is spending their summer. First up: second year Rachel Moran, who's interning at the Campaign Legal Center and is looking forward to her first Fourth of July in D.C.
What's your academic concentration? Your areas of interest?
My academic concentration is political communication with a particular focus on electoral politics. My current research projects focus on political advertising and the role of money in politics.
Where are you interning this summer?
I’m spending the summer at the Campaign Legal Center (CLC), a non-profit made up of lawyers and media policy experts who fight to improve democracy and protect every American’s right to participate in politics.
They work in both legal proceedings and in policy to fight against unfair voting redistricting, shady campaign advertising, and to defend those whose democratic rights are being infringed upon.
What are your responsibilities there?
I’m working with Policy Director Meredith McGehee on a project that looks at the sponsorship of political advertisements. I’m looking into how many broadcasters properly document who is advertising on their channels and, more importantly, whether they are actually investigating whether advertisers are who they say they are.
When you see political ads on television they’re now likely to be sponsored by vague groups with names like "Americans for America," which isn’t particularly helpful in informing viewers who is trying to sway their opinion.
CLC are working to get the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to follow through on their sponsorship regulation and ensure that such groups can’t advertise without being transparent about who’s really funding them.
I’m currently going through FCC filings to see how many stations are actually doing thorough research on their advertisers and picking out the worst offenders who are ignoring their duties.
What does a normal day at your internship look like?
Right now, I'm deep in the data collection stage, which means long hours on the FCC website. But working with a group of lawyers has exposed me to a world I'm fairly unfamiliar with, so a good deal of my time is spend Googling whatever cases the legal interns I sit with are discussing.
Have you had a chance to see and do other things in D.C.?
As D.C. is such a wonk-y place, there's always Commission hearings and policy lunches to attend, which is good for a free meal and to learn something new from people who actually write the laws.
Outside of work, there's plenty of things to do and see in D.C. I spent some time here several years ago, so am currently re-visiting old haunts and enjoying being in such a walkable place. (LA loses out on that point!)
I'm also looking forward to spending my first Fourth of July in the nation's capital. Although I may tone down the English accent for the weekend.
How do you think your experience in the COMPASS program this summer will impact the work you're doing in the doctoral program?
The strength of the program is that you get to hear about issues from a policy perspective, rather than an academic one, which can ground your work in a better sense of political and governmental reality. Prior to the program I had been working on a paper regarding the role of the Federal Election Commission in regulating election-related media and the difficulties I have discovered through my COMPASS research into television broadcasting adds greater detail to this.
The program has also allowed me to see media regulation outside of an electoral framework and instead in a wider world of governance. I hope to use this experience to extend my research focus on media policy beyond electoral coverage.
Any advice for other doctoral students who might be interested in participating in COMPASS in the future?
Don’t spend all your money on coffee. There’s always a free lunch somewhere if you look hard enough. Oh, and bring an umbrella – those summer storms will catch you off guard.