The Write Stuff

Amber Phillips’ persistence and passion for the big story land her a dream job at The Washington Post.  

Amber Phillips fell in love with reporting news at TCU. “More than a decade later, I still have that passion for wanting to go for the bigger story as soon as it breaks,” she said. Photo by Lisa Helfert

The Write Stuff

Amber Phillips’ persistence and passion for the big story land her a dream job at The Washington Post.  

Interviewing Ma Ying-jeou, then president of Taiwan, was a turning point in Amber Phillips’ career as a journalist.

In 2010, Phillips ’08 moved to Taiwan; as a freelance writer, she hoped securing the big interview would help her break into international political reporting. 

“It was an interview I did not think was going to happen until it did,” Phillips said. “It took several calls, emails and negotiations to make it happen.”

After a chat with the president about how he wanted the United States to help Taiwan combat China’s increasing aggression toward the island, Phillips headed back to her hotel to write the story for the next morning’s Washington Post.

Her resolve paid off. While it would take several years and a lot more experience, in 2015 Phillips landed her dream job as full-time politics reporter for The Washington Post.  

College Athlete and Reporter 

Phillips, born in Denver, moved with her family to Austin, Texas, when she was 12. After graduating from high school, Phillips chose TCU for its College of Communication and swimming team.

The Washington Post hired Amber Phillips in 2015 as a political reporter, and among her duties is writing “The 5-Minute Fix” newsletter. Photo by Lisa Helfert

With a dream to someday report abroad, Phillips double-majored in international communication with a news editorial emphasis and Spanish. She took as many journalism classes as possible.

“I had never done anything related to journalism before,” Phillips said. “I ended up immediately falling in love with it through the TCU journalism program.”

Phillips swam for the Horned Frogs for two years before stepping back to focus on her journalism career, which she said felt like a commitment equivalent to being a college athlete, with lengthy hours and late nights.

Her passion for journalism grew while she worked for the Skiff. An early assignment about construction workers protesting on campus holds a special place in her memory, Phillips said. She aimed high for sources, interviewing Chancellor Victor J. Boschini, Jr. for the story. When her article made the front page of the newspaper — a first for Phillips — she felt the rush of doing a job she loves.

“More than a decade later, I still have that passion for wanting to go for the bigger story as soon as it breaks,” she said.

A study-abroad experience in Spain stoked Phillips’ interest in politics when she interned with Mas Voces, a radio station in Madrid.

One of Phillips’ biggest influences at TCU was John Tisdale, associate professor of journalism, who taught her how to write a story and held his students to high standards. In his class, Phillips said, one factual error on an assignment meant an automatic 50 percent reduction in the grade.

His presence in the TCU newsroom helped guide student reporters. “Tisdale was an ally to all of us budding journalists, a safe place for us to learn how to do the job,” Phillips said.

Tisdale said he has seen many students who are afraid of pursuing a hard story, but Phillips was not one of them.

“A lot of people don’t want to be a journalist, they just want to be on TV,” Tisdale said. “Amber wanted to be a journalist; she never shied away from difficult topics and never had a problem asking questions to the people in power.”  

Journeys in Journalism 

After graduating, Phillips moved to Montgomery County, Maryland, where she worked as a reporter for The Gazette, covering business developments, government and local and congressional elections.  

These days, a reporter’s most valuable tool is a cellphone. Amber Phillips uses hers for multimedia content and old-fashioned reporting for The Washington Post. Photo by Lisa Helfert

Phillips’ “experience of a lifetime” came in 2010, when she moved to Kaohsiung, a port metropolis in south Taiwan. The move was prompted by her husband’s position as a Fulbright grantee, but Phillips also saw it as an opportunity to fulfill her goal of reporting abroad.

While her first job in Taiwan was teaching English to middle school students, Phillips found ways to continue her journalism career. She started by freelancing for the Taipei Times.

“I sought every opportunity to write on my year abroad, hoping the experience could help propel my journalism career back in the states,” Phillips said.

Joining a foreign press association and networking helped Phillips find more reporting opportunities. She frequently commuted two hours by train to the capital city of Taipei, an effort that paid off as her list of freelance clients grew to include The Washington Post, Monocle magazine and Taipei Business Topics magazine.

“If you’re a young journalist that wants to study abroad, I would say joining a foreign press association is the first thing you should do,” Phillips said. “I think the biggest key to journalism, especially in your 20s after graduating, is to just keep writing and producing videos as much as possible.”

The interview with President Ma Ying-jeou, just nine months after Phillips’ move to the country, helped her realize that she could do groundbreaking international journalism.

Phillips returned to the U.S. in 2011 believing she was ready to make the jump to The Washington Post, but her job applications to the venerable newspaper were unsuccessful.

A TikTok video, like the one Amber Phillips is shooting here, is just one of many ways she reports the news for The Washington Post. Photo by Lisa Helfert

“It was really hard because I had just interviewed the president,” Phillips said. “I think in part I didn’t get the job because I wasn’t somebody in D.C. — I wasn’t this up-and-coming reporter for a lot of people.”

Phillips took a job as web news editor and reporter at The Daily Item, a 134-year-old family-owned newspaper in Lynn, Massachusetts. She also began contributing to international radio stations as a reporter, breaking down major U.S. news events for people abroad.

After a stint as a national politics reporter and producer for Digital First Media in Washington, D.C., Phillips moved closer to her goal when she got the job of Washington correspondent for the Las Vegas Sun in 2014. In this new role, she covered the last few years of Nevada Sen. Harry Reid’s career. Her stories about Majority Leader Reid were picked up in national newsletters like “Political Wire” and Politico’s “Playbook.”

“People in D.C. started to see me as this regional correspondent who narrowed her beat to Nevada but was part of the national conversation,” Phillips said.

The Washington Post hired Phillips in 2015 as a politics reporter. She writes “The 5-Minute Fix,” a newsletter that breaks down current political issues for the public. Phillips also does multimedia projects for the Post, including TikToks, podcasts and TV appearances on CNN and MSNBC.

“Amber’s ability to demystify government power is singular as she brings clarity to complicated subjects,” said Phil Rucker, national editor for The Washington Post.Washington Post readers have grown to rely on her for her explanatory journalism and deep dives.”

Phillips hopes to continue expanding her digital reach through TikTok, Instagram and Facebook under the handle byamberphillips. Her next career goal is to be recognized nationally as the source people can trust when they need an explanation of any political subject.

“In all of my years in this industry, I’ve learned that it’s OK to make mistakes,” Phillips said. “I’ve learned that there’s no wrong first job, second job or third job because if you stick with journalism you’re going to succeed and get to your dreams.”

After working overseas, Amber Phillips’ big break in the U.S. was a job as the Washington correspondent for the Las Vegas Sun in 2014. Photo by Lisa Helfert