by Kaitlyn Wang
When Brendan Pedersen was deep in the weeds of reporting on the midterm elections as an intern at NBC in Chicago earlier this year, he remembers working on a story with political reporter Mary Ann Ahern about a Democratic challenger in one of Chicago’s districts accusing the incumbent Robert Rita of putting a “ghost candidate” on the ballot to split the vote and help Rita win the race.
Pedersen and Ahern worked to verify the accusation: if they could find a link between the ghost candidate and Rita’s ally, Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan (who Pedersen describes as the last remnant of Chicago’s political machine), they could make the case that the candidate was only placed on the ballot to split the vote and ensure a Rita victory. The story focused on the petition circulators trying to get the third “ghost” candidate on the ballot — and after a lot of digging through the petition signature sheets, sifting through campaign contribution reports and some well-placed phone calls, Pedersen was able to get indirect confirmation that at least six circulators were linked to Madigan.
“I sat around for a while with a story written but no way to confirm the last piece of the puzzle,” Pedersen said. “Then — and I'm not sure exactly when — I decided to call the 13th Ward political office with a simple question: ‘Is [name of petition circulator] in the office today?’”
This relentless reporting and ability to dig into documents and data characterizes the type of journalism that Pedersen, who graduated in March with a degree in journalism and political science from DePaul University, wants to pursue. And whether working at NBC 5 in Chicago as the political intern, or at Kiplinger’s Personal Finance magazine through the American Society of Magazine Editors internship program, or as the editor-in-chief of DePaul’s online magazine 14 East, Pedersen has keen eyes and a penchant for getting his hands dirty.
“Brendan likes to dig into archives, sift through documents and seek difficult interviews,” DePaul journalism professor and 14 East faculty adviser Amy Merrick said. “He's got a powerful sense of narrative and a smart, discursive, original writing style.”
The Cary, Ill. native found through his prior experiences that he enjoys bringing what he calls a “business reporting mindset” to political reporting. He likes to ground his narratives in numbers, folding granular data into the stories he writes, and he has been honing his ability to work with data. Since graduation, Pedersen has worked as a research assistant for University of Chicago Booth School of Business professor and Chicago Booth Review editor-in-chief Hal Weitzman, digging into Delaware corporate law. While researching, Pedersen has been able to pull tax data and parse what kind of income the state gets for different things.
“I really like being able to put shapes and colors and graphs and numbers to a lot of these thorny questions that otherwise, you're only answering with interviews and half-truths,” Pedersen said.
But Pedersen feels he might be missing some technical expertise, and he hopes to learn some more of the technical side of business journalism this summer through Dow Jones News Fund. After the one week training session in New York City, Pedersen will head to Denver to intern at BusinessDen, a publication for local business news. Pedersen is excited for the opportunity — and not just because of the temperate Denver summer.
Pedersen said that he is fascinated by the cannabis industry that has been blooming in Denver in the past years, and that he expects to do a lot of reporting and seeking out stories. It’s likely to be a different experience than his past two internships — at Kiplinger’s, where he wrote and checked facts for the magazine, and NBC Chicago, where he worked in the field under Ahern — but Pedersen is up for the challenge.