Libby Casey: Pioneering Television Broadcasting at the Washington Post

Libby Casey is a television anchor, reporter, writer and a Pulitzer Prize winner. What’s unique about her job is she anchors the streaming broadcasts of the Washington Post, one of the nation’s top newspapers.

Casey is one of a handful of broadcast journalists ever to win the Pulitzer Prize. That honor nearly always goes to print journalists and very rarely to on-air talent.

Libby Casey

She was on the team at the Washington Post that won the 2022 Pulitzer Prize for Public Service “for its compellingly told and vividly presented account of the assault on Washington on January 6, 2021, providing the public with a thorough and unflinching understanding of one of the nation’s darkest days.”

It was a day when Casey was on the air 12 straight hours — coolly and calmly adlibbing her way through the turbulent day while simultaneously worrying about the safety of her news colleagues who had to flee and barricade themselves in a Capitol basement. Her broadcasts that day were streamed to millions of viewers.

Prior to joining The Washington Post in October, 2016, Casey was a national TV correspondent for the Al Jazeera America network, and a host and producer of C-SPAN’s daily call-in show, Washington Journal.

She began her career in Alaska in public radio, and came to the nation’s capital as Alaska Public Radio Network’s Washington correspondent. She has taught radio journalism classes at the University of Alaska in Fairbanks.

Broadcast Beat’s Frank Beacham interviewed Casey about her work at the Post.

Frank Beacham: You have worked in both traditional broadcast television news and now on the air as the television anchor at a major American newspaper. How are those jobs different?

Libby Casey: In traditional broadcasting, you are beholden to the broadcast clock. At the Washington Post, we really let the news drive us. Whether we’re covering a trial, an important political speech or breaking news…we are on the air specifically around those events.

We’re not on the air all the time. We can bring this focus and energy to give our audience insights into real time reporting and analysis of the news events.

A lot of our viewers come from search engines. They might click on our YouTube link or website. When they do, they get an introduction to The Washington Post and to our journalists.

We can be an entry point for people who might not otherwise consume news. Viewing our broadcasts is different than someone who’s turning on the TV and going to their favorite cable news channel or network.

Frank Beacham: Your physical control room and facilities at the Washington Post look like a traditional broadcast studio. Is that correct?

Libby Casey: That’s correct. We do use the traditional tools of a broadcast network and are directed by Micah Gelman, our director of video, who has worked hard over the years to build up our equipment, tools and team.

Though we have a very tight and light staff, we are very nimble. We might have a bigger staff footprint on election night and other major stories. But we can go on the air with a skeleton crew with just a director in the control room…no prompter or robo camera operator.

That’s part of the beauty of this…we can adapt how formal or sophisticated technologically we are for both the event and also the nature of the breaking news story. We’re very lean and mean.

My colleagues can do it all. We’re really an egalitarian staff where everybody pitches in. I have talented colleagues who one day may might be running the audio board, the next day the cameras and the next day directing the show.

Frank Beacham: What about you…can you do everything?

Libby Casey: (Laughs) To a degree…I would not put me in charge of the robo cam. Running the teleprompter terrifies me, which is ironic.

Frank Beacham: You work very closely with James Hohmann and Rhonda Colvin on most broadcasts. You guys have a good on-air chemistry together. How does your collaboration with them work?

Libby Casey:  I respect them so much as journalists and colleagues. And frankly, they’re just great humans. They’re fun to work with. We are in a constant conversation about politics.

In fact, our boss sometimes jokes that we could do a YouTube show of political stories just chatting in the hallway. We’re all political junkies…so we love to talk about this stuff. That’s part of establishing our on-air kinship.

We have meetings ahead of time to hash things out before we go on the air. By airtime, I am up to date on the information they have. I can then ask them informed and intelligent questions on air that elicit their insights.

Frank Beacham: Do you do your own research and writing in advance of a broadcast or do you mostly wing it?

Libby Casey: Whether I’m researching and writing really depends on the show we’re doing. On programming like big election night coverage, I have professional help who can write copy at lightning speed. Producers on our staff sometimes write things out in advance. We are all pitching in.

I don’t want to say I do all that on my own writing because I have a lot of help. This is not a newsroom where you’re handed copy and you sit down to read it. We’re all doing it together.

Frank Beacham: When you were on the air for 12 hours straight during the January 6thattack on the Capitol, what was it like behind the scenes? I suspect it was the one the biggest stories of your career?

Libby Casey: It was. That was a difficult day. That day is the first and only time I’ve ever cried on the air…and I’ve covered some terrible tragedies and heartbreaking stories. But there was something about the sense of fear and helplessness as I watched my Capitol and my colleagues and friends shelter in that building.

It was especially difficult on a human level. Rhonda and her videographer were barricaded in a basement room. I thought about Rhonda’s mother watching the broadcast and I didn’t want to freak her out.

We performed like all newsrooms do in breaking news…we just kept our focus on the story. I pulled it together fast. We kept reporting. I worked my sources, connecting with people I was texting and emailing. I was in touch with the Washington Post journalists around the Capitol complex.

One of the biggest parts of my job is just synthesizing everything that’s happening around me. And that takes a lot of preparation. Then the goal is that all that research and preparation in the moment allows me to put things together.

Micah Gelman announced the Pulitzer

Frank Beacham: You did it well…you and your team won a Pulitzer Prize…you are one of the few television journalists to ever do so.

Libby Casey: In 2018, the Post won the Pulitzer Prize for covering Roy Moore’s Senate candidacy and the efforts to hide the allegations against him. Two of my colleagues on the video team were part of that award. They were the trailblazers. Our Pulitzer Prize in 2022 was shared across the entire newsroom. There was a whole team of us.

At the Washington Post, our first goal is journalism and our second is format. I think that the public service Pulitzer that was awarded to the entire newsroom is really a symbol of the goal of letting the story lead the format and having the story help decide whether it is a video project.

Frank Beacham: We’re in a new era of journalism where a lot of subjects can go on the air and just outright lie. As a journalist, how do you deal with subjects you know are not telling the truth?

Libby Casey: So much of that is doing your homework ahead of time and being prepared to fact check the person you’re interviewing. Put them on the spot and allow them to explain their way out of it. It’s not about catching anyone…it’s about not allowing them to mislead our audience.

I started my career in local public radio in Alaska. That happens when you’re interviewing a local politician or a local representative of a company. And it happens all the way up to the to the highest levels of government. My goal is not to have a dramatic confrontation, but to get to the facts.

What I’ve done is cite my source and then have them try to cite their source. Where are you getting that number from? Sometimes we have to let the audience decide what’s true. The audience has to judge if that’s an acceptable answer from a politician who they’ve elected.

Frank Beacham: Your programs are streamed, not broadcast. How and where are they seen?

Libby Casey: YouTube, the Washington Post website, social media channels. We’ve had our biggest audiences on the war in Ukraine and the Queen’s funeral. We had 3.8 million viewers when Russia invaded Ukraine. We were the top performing news program on YouTube that day. Some people now watch us on their home TV sets through YouTube. We can be accessed a lot of ways.

Frank Beacham: Final question. What is the background of most of your video team?

Libby Casey: Our control room is full of people who come from all sorts of different backgrounds. We have engineers who come from places like PBS and local television. We have producers who come to us from Breaking News TV or who create viral YouTube videos.

It’s a variety of backgrounds and knowledge. We value the traditional broadcast style and format…and we respect it. But we’re not beholden to it. We can break out of it when we need to have a very fast response. It requires flexibility and constant experimentation plus the ability to just keep innovating and trying new things. We are always doing that.

But we never forget the basics — the solid reporting, sourcing, clear, concise, descriptive writing and good journalism. We are journalists above everything else. How we disseminate the information is secondary.

I love nothing more than talking to people, hearing from them, asking questions and learning from them. I have an incredible thirst for knowledge. And I love helping people shine. I love it when I have someone who might be a traditional print reporter…who doesn’t do a lot of broadcasting…come in and do a powerful, strong interview successfully communicating their points very clearly.

Frank Beacham: Thank you, Libby Casey.

Writer at Broadcast Beat
Frank Beacham is a New York-based writer, director and producer who works in print, radio, television, film and theatre.

Beacham has served as a staff reporter and editor for United Press International, the Miami Herald, Gannett Newspapers and Post-Newsweek. His articles have appeared in the Los Angeles Times, Washington Post, the Village Voice and The Oxford American.

Beacham’s books, Whitewash: A Southern Journey through Music, Mayhem & Murder and The Whole World Was Watching; My Life Under the Media
Microscope are currently in publication. Two of his stories are currently being developed for television.

In 1985, Beacham teamed with Orson Welles over a six month period to develop a one-man television special. Orson Welles Solo was canceled after Mr. Welles died on the day principal photography was to begin.

In 1999, Frank Beacham was executive producer of Tim Robbins’ Touchstone feature film, Cradle Will Rock. His play, Maverick, about video with Orson Welles, was staged off-Broadway in New York City in 2019.
Frank Beacham
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