Former Gazette staffers are making their mark

Reporters shine on state and national stage
Jake Lahut, left, before a Cuomo coronavirus briefing; Brett Samuels, right, in front of Air Force One
PHOTOGRAPHER:
Jake Lahut, left, before a Cuomo coronavirus briefing; Brett Samuels, right, in front of Air Force One

Categories: Editorial, Opinion

It’s always gratifying to see former colleagues move on to bigger stages and exciting career opportunities.

Over the years, we’ve had Gazette reporters, photographers and editors move up to national publications, larger metro newspapers and other high-profile communications jobs.

Recently, however, we had a first.

Former Schenectady City Hall reporter Brett Samuels, who worked for the Gazette in 2016 and 2017, was promoted to one of the biggest stages there is for a reporter: The White House beat.

Brett joined the Gazette right out of Syracuse University, where he studied journalism at the esteemed Newhouse School of Public Communications.

We knew he was destined for bigger things from Day 1, but we were thrilled to feature his excellent reporting and writing for 18 months.

From Schenectady, Brett went straight to Washington, D.C., for a job as a breaking news reporter for The Hill, an online news organization that focuses on politics, policy, business and international relations. 

After two years on the breaking news desk, he was promoted to the coveted White House beat.

Since then, Brett has had a front-row seat to history as America grapples with the COVID-19 crisis. 

“Certainly I never expected this to be the way it panned out when I took the job as a breaking news reporter, but I feel very lucky and it’s been a great opportunity,” Brett says of his rapid rise up the ranks.

Brett has been right there in the White House briefing room for all of the coronavirus press conferences — including President Donald Trump’s now-infamous April 23 briefing when he mused about using “very powerful light” and injecting disinfectant into the body to kill COVID-19. 

The next day, Trump said he was being sarcastic, but Brett didn’t buy it.

“Anybody who was kind of in the room or watching that play out understood that it wasn’t really sarcastic,” says Brett, who first got into journalism as a reporter for his high school newspaper.

“It was certainly one of the more notable things that have happened at those coronavirus briefings.”

Despite the bizarre bleach comments, Brett says, the president is a formidable presence in his press briefings


“He knows how to command a room and he knows how to keep the spotlight on him and keep people interested in what he has to say,” he says.

The White House beat, especially during a crisis, can feel relentless at times, Brett says.

“Covering the Trump administration is an extremely hectic job where there’s very little time to stop and catch your breath, and that’s especially true now when things are changing so rapidly,” he says.

“I’ve had to try and build new sources and get familiar with new topics, and it can be kind of draining at times to be focused on such a somber topic every day.”

“But I feel really fortunate to be in a position to report on matters of national and international consequences at a time like this,” he says.

Brett isn’t the only former Gazette staffer covering the coronavirus at some of the highest levels of government.

Ex-Gazette reporter Jake Lahut is covering the crisis for Business Insider, a national and international financial and business news outlet. 

Previously, Jake reported on local, state and national politics for The Keene Sentinel in New Hampshire.

As part of his coverage of the first-in-the-nation primary, Jake did one-on-one podcast interviews with Democratic candidates including Joe Biden, Bernie Sanders, Pete Buttigieg, Elizabeth Warren, Amy Klobuchar, Andrew Yang and Cory Booker.

In the past few months, Jake’s reporting duties have expanded beyond straight politics to include the coronavirus story.

One of his recent assignments took him to the state Capitol in Albany to cover one of the daily coronavirus briefings of Gov. Andrew Cuomo.

Instead of a standard daily report, he dug a little deeper for a behind-the-scenes look at what it’s like to be at one of Cuomo’s briefings. 

More recently he examined Cuomo’s use of his executive powers.

“I’ve mainly been focusing on how governors have been responding — with a special look at the Cuomo administration — and how in the world all of these down-ballot candidates are trying to campaign digitally,” says Jake, a Niskayuna native and graduate of Albany Academy and Wesleyan University.

Former Gazette Business Writer Bethany Bump has made her mark with her outstanding regional coronavirus coverage for the Times Union in Albany.

As the TU’s health reporter, Bethany is a key member of the paper’s COVID coverage team, known for her thorough reporting and smooth writing style.

On the West Coast, former Gazette summer intern Kathleen Ronayne, a graduate of Saratoga Springs High School and Syracuse University, has distinguished herself with her reporting on California and national politics for The Associated Press.

The bulk of her work in recent months has involved the Golden State’s response to the pandemic and related financial and political issues, including a controversy last week over some failed high-priced deals for personal protective equipment.

And, finally, another one of our great former summer interns, Shenendehowa graduate Shannon Luibrand, has been working in the epicenter of the coronavirus crisis in America with her job as a producer at CBS News in New York City.

She and her colleagues are focusing heavily on the virus’ devastating effects on the New York Metropolitan area and beyond.

A graduate of St. John’s University and Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism, Shannon had 5 years of producing at CBS under belt before the big story erupted in February and March.

Even if she works another 40 years in New York, it’s unlikely that she’ll ever cover a story this big again.

Miles Reed is editor of The Daily Gazette.

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