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Alum Defends Freedom of Press at NPR

Ashley Messenger ’91 has a passion for the First Amendment. As a student, Messenger studied the constitution and engaged in general discussions about American politics, but not until she began working as a lawyer did she realize how “fun” the First Amendment can be.

“When I graduated from law school, I thought I wanted to work in the music industry and represent bands,” Messenger says. “After negotiating a couple record contracts, though, I realized the work was very frustrating and not at all fulfilling.” By chance, she met the publisher of Weekly Alibi, an alternative newsweekly out of Albuquerque. The publisher thought it would be useful to have legal help for the paper, and Messenger was looking for a career change. “Since then, I have more or less worked in the media business,” she says.

A professional turning point came a few years later when the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press awarded Messenger a fellowship. It was her dream job: “all First Amendment, all the time.” She quickly sold her house, moved across the country, and has “been doing fun, First Amendment work ever since.”

The fellowship allowed Messenger to focus on issues surrounding freedom of the press on a daily basis. And it set her on the path to where she is today: Associate General Counsel at National Public Radio (NPR). In this position, she provides legal advice on all aspects of  newsgathering, broadcasting stories and publishing online for NPR News.

The 24/7/365 nature of the news business means that Messenger is extremly busy.  “My day is highly scheduled,” Messenger says. “I schedule time for everything: work, family, workouts, fun – even time for nothing.” Although scheduled, Messenger’s life is not rigid: “The importance of various aspects of life can ebb and flow.  I can work crazy hours one week when I have lots of deadlines, and the next week I might schedule more time for leisure or family activities.”

A calendar-driven week works quite well for Messenger, but she encourages current students to look at the personal “fit” of any potential career: “Make sure your job and your personality suit each other.… You have to think about the day-to-day aspect of what you do and how you like it, not just the subject matter.”

Messenger, who also serves as an adjunct professor at American University, joined the Department of Political Science Advisory Board this summer. “I think people have an obligation to help where they can,” she says. By joining the Board, Messenger hopes to give back to the department that helped to shape her current professional career. “My experience at UMass was an important part of my life because I was exposed to a wide range of individuals with a wide range of life experiences, and seeing the perspective of others has been an important part of shaping my ability to do the kind of work I do now.”

Political Science, she says, covers broad territory like “the judicial system, the intricacies of political elections, the history of geo-political concerns, political philosophy and policy. … and understanding all of these topics is important to developing competent, responsible citizens.”


News Type: 

  • Alumni News