I am so excited (like, !!!!!-level excited) to introduce you to today’s Talking Shop feature, a gal that I’ve known for about five minutes and already want to be bffs with. Not only is she a incredibly talented journalist and media specialist, but she’s kind, wise, and seriously well-dressed.
As a Digital Assistant for U.S. Senator Patty Murray, Maureen “Mo” Elinzano lives and breathes media in Washington D.C. Drawn to journalism and writing at a young age, she has become a true media jack-of-all-trades, marrying her love of communications with a passion for public service.
Even with a chaotically busy work schedule, (her boss, Senator Murray, is the top Democrat on the Senate HELP Committee, which includes health, and the state that she represents, Washington state, is the epicenter of coronavirus!) she graciously agreed to chat with me about her journalism background, what a day in her life looks like, and what skills she believes are necessary for success in her industry.
Oh, and P.S: Mo has done some seriously cool and groundbreaking research on selfies. NBD.
Everyone, meet Mo!
Tell us a little bit about yourself.
I’m a daughter of immigrants from the Philippines and I was born and raised in Southern California, in wonderful and beautiful San Diego, in a small town called Fallbrook.
My father still lives in Fallbrook and my older brother works for Nike in New York City. My mother passed away of cancer when I was 15, but I know that she’s guiding me from above every single day!
When I’m not busy working in Congress, I’m busy with church and extracurricular stuff in the greater D.C. area—I’m the Social Council Co-Chair in the Eastern Market YSA Ward in D.C., I’m the Stake Communications Assistant for LDS Public Affairs for the Washington, D.C. YSA Stake, and I’m on the Public Affairs Subcommittee for the Washington, D.C. Temple Open House that’s happening in the fall.
Back on Capitol Hill, I’m on the board of the Congressional Asian Pacific American Staff Association (CAPASA) as the Social Media Lead, and I’m a member of the Democratic Digital Communications Staff Association (DDCSA) and the LDS Staff Association. Off Capitol Hill, I’m the Social Media Director for the Washington, D.C. chapter of BYU Alumni.
What drew you to journalism and communications? What makes you passionate about it?
My nascent experience with journalism and communications started was when I was in 6th grade, and I wrote for the newspaper at my school, Live Oak Elementary, in Fallbrook. I chose to interview my wonderful 6th grade teacher, Ms. Hawk, and my article made it onto the front page!
After that, I went through other career aspirations, before finally getting back to journalism during my last two years of high school. I wrote for the current events and fashion columns (and yes I created that column) for The Tomahawk newspaper at Fallbrook High School, and during that time, I was reading (and still read) Vogue, Teen Vogue, ELLE, and other fashion magazines, so I decided that I wanted to study journalism in college and that my focus would be on fashion and celebrity journalism.
Like a true Gossip Girl fan and devoted Blair Waldorf stan, I lived in New York City and attended New York University (NYU), where I doubled-majored in Journalism and Mass Communications and Art History. While I was at NYU, my brush with interviewing celebrities came during my senior year, when I interned at Us Weekly and ELLE magazines, during which I attended many parties and interviewed celebrities—which was a dream come true!
TLDR: I was drawn to journalism and communications because I’ve always loved reading magazines and reading articles on websites, so I thought it would be great to be able to write those stories. As someone who loves writing and non-fiction, it just made sense for me to go into journalism and into the whole world of communications.
While I was at BYU, I got my Master’s in Communications and my emphasis was on social media, so I wrote scholarly papers and had papers published in scholarly journals on Snapchat and Instagram, and I even wrote my thesis on selfies! It was so cool and I loved being a vanguard at BYU and in academia (along with my classmates) in regards to establishing social media as a scholarly topic.
I’m so fervent about communications because I love words and I love painting pictures with words (which it says in my Patriarchal Blessing, I’m not kidding!) My entire academic and career trajectory has been communications and I’m really passionate about being a jack-of-all-trades when it comes to media, like I can tweet, I can take a good photo, I can use Adobe products, I can write an article, etc.
I really love how my career and skills in communications have developed, as someone who learned about traditional press at NYU, wrote for major magazines in NYC, then wrote about communications and social media in a scholarly manner at BYU, did an internship in Congress on the House side doing press and social media, and now I’m working in Congress on the Senate side doing social media, graphics, photography, and videos. I love communications and having such a vast array of skills that I’ve been developing since high school.
What inspired you to pursue a graduate degree in your field?
When I graduated from NYU, I was planning on staying in New York City and pursuing a career as a journalist, which is the usual route that you would take. But for some reason, I decided that I needed to be enriched academically and I applied to graduate schools, eventually landing in the wonderful Mass Communications program at BYU.
Personally, I think it also was the best decision for me to make spiritually since I was inactive in the Church during my last two years at NYU and I knew that Provo was where I was supposed to be—even though it’s like the opposite of NYU and NYC in every single way!
Looking back, I’m really glad that I did get a Master’s degree, not only for the practical reasons of making more money and standing out when applying for jobs, but also because it was really fun to write about social media in a scholarly manner and to say that I’m a published author in scholarly journals who has presented at conferences. My biggest claim to fame was a paper on selfies that me and my classmates wrote that went viral around the world and even made it on the TODAY Show!
Tell us about your work as a digital assistant in the Senate. What does that role look like?
Yes! So I’m in charge of helping draft content for Senator Murray’s Twitter and Instagram and I’m also her photographer, videographer, and I make graphics and GIFs for our social media platforms.
A day in the life of my job involves drafting tweets, Instagram posts, and stories for the next day via a Google Doc, which will go through a rigorous approval process that involves the Digital Director, the Communications Director, members of our Communications Team that are assigned issue areas (like immigration, health care, etc.), and then finally any policy person that isn’t on the Communications Team, like legislative aides, HELP Committee members, etc.
The rest of the day is usually getting those tweets and Instagram content through the approval process and then any other digital tasks that are needed to be done—such as editing a video and adding captions to a video of a floor speech that Senator Murray did in Adobe Premiere, taking photos of her at a press conference, making a graphic for a tweet or Instagram post in Adobe Spark, etc.
What is the most rewarding part of your job? What is the most challenging?
Senator Patty Murray is in Senate Leadership as the Assistant Democratic Leader (the 3rd-highest ranking Democrat) and is the highest-ranked woman in the Senate, and so our office is always busy! To begin with, the most rewarding part of my job is working for such a wonderful woman and public servant. She’s so ardent about helping people and families with their most pressing problems and she cares about her constituents and the country so much, and she has been like that since she came to the Senate in 1992. She’s one of my heroes in regards to what I want to be as a public servant for our country.
Another rewarding part is just being able to be where everything is happening! I remember watching CNN when I was younger or learning about the U.S. presidents in school (I’m a huge presidential trivia nerd!) or even reading The Washington Post when I was at BYU, and now here I am working in Congress on Capitol Hill. 2020 hasn’t been easy in the Senate with Impeachment and now, especially for my office, the outbreak of coronavirus—but I wouldn’t want to be working anywhere else in the world!
The most challenging part of my job is how incredibly busy it is like all the time, especially since I’m on the Communications team of a leadership Senate office. There are days, especially this year, where there was so much going on and our office was so insane, but like I said above, working so hard for Washington state and for our country is exactly what I want to be doing in my life right now.
What part of your job would surprise most people?
I think people assume that all I do is tweet and that’s like the only thing that I do every single day on the Hill, which is obvs not true! I think people are most surprised that a job like mine exists in Congress because I think people who aren’t as familiar with politics and government assume that Congress is just legislative and policy stuff like all the time, although press and communications is the reason why there’s a connection between congresspeople and their constituents and the rest of the country. Moreover, I think they’re surprised that a job like mine in particular, a digital communications job, exists in Congress.
What skills do you think are necessary to be successful in your industry?
I definitely don’t think I’m successful in my industry as I’ve only been a full-time staffer in Congress for a year and 7 months, but I think there’s a lot that you learn before and during your job in Congress that can make a big difference when it comes to performing well in your job.
While I was an intern for U.S. Representative Susan Davis (CA-53), I had a lot “coffees” and networking meetings with various press and digital staffers who worked for my favorite senators and congresspeople and I made an Excel spreadsheet of their contact info and what I learned from them. They all told me to be a jack-of-all-trades and to present myself as someone who would be invaluable to a Congressional office.
So, after I came back to BYU for my last year of graduate school (and when I wasn’t busy with getting my Master’s thesis done!), every single activity and leadership position that I held on-campus was social media or digital-related: I was the Executive Director for Advertising in BYUSA Clubs, I was the Social Media Lead for BYU Democrats, I did social media for the BYU Marriott School, I did social media for the Ballard Center, and I even made social media graphics for Dr. Kathie Allen’s campaign for Congress. I worked hard at becoming a better photographer, a better videographer, a better tweeter, and a better graphic designer. I worked hard to become a media jack-of-all-trades!
After I graduated from BYU and started applying to jobs, I marketed myself as that jack-of-all-trades who can do anything and everything when it comes to press and digital in Congress. Even during my year and 7 months in Congress, I’ve learned a lot that I’m able to add to the foundation of skills that I learned when I was in high school, when I was at NYU and BYU, and during my internship in Congress.
TLDR: Develop your skills, work hard, always be kind to yourself and others not matter what, always be willing to serve and help, learn from your mistakes, and always have a solution to problems that arise.
What advice would you give to aspiring journalists and communications specialists?
Like I said above, it’s important to work hard when networking, making connections, and applying for jobs and internships—even though sending out cover letters and résumés are the worst! Communications in all of its forms, whether it’s journalism or PR or social media, are all so interesting, but I think it’s imperative that you have a passion for it and that you’re willing to do the work and develop within whichever aspect or aspects of communications that you pursue as a career. But also still have fun and be as creative as possible!
The Fun Qs:
What is your desert island meal?
I can’t pick just one meal, so I’m going to name multiple foods and drinks—Pad Thai, tacos (I’m a true San Diegan who loves Mexican food!), ice cream, Coca-Cola, and French fries! Also, if we could get my fav Sodalicious drink (“It’s Not Me, It’s You Extra Dirty) or Swig drink (Paradise with Extra Vanilla Cream) sent from Utah to this desert island, that would be great! I miss those places so much!
The last great book you read?
I take forever to finish reading books because I’m so busy, but the last great book that I read was “Bobby Kennedy: A Raging Spirit” by Chris Matthews—I’m a huge Kennedy fan and JFK and RFK are two of my heroes!
Your favorite out-of-office activities?
My favorite out-of-office activities are shopping, reading, hanging out with my friends, getting my nails done, watching TV and documentaries, and going to museums!
Your latest Netflix/Hulu binge?
Excellent question! It’s on Amazon Prime, but my housemate and I are currently watching “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel,” which is so funny and so good! I just finished the “Hillary” documentary on Hulu and I just finished “Next in Fashion” on Netflix, and I highly recommend both!
The song that’s currently stuck in your head?
“Bad Decisions” by The Strokes (one of my favorite bands!)
A hidden talent you have?
I don’t think it’s a hidden talent, but I can still sing that song where I can list all the U.S. Presidents in order! Like I said, I’m a presidential trivia nerd who wants to work in the White House!
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