LOCAL FOLKS: Young Mississippi native finds place at Washington Post

By Carlie Kollath/NEMS Daily Journal

TUPELO – Haley Crum is 24 years old, but she already has an impressive resume.
The Northeast Mississippi native currently works for The Washington Post in the nation’s capital. Her previous gigs include jobs with the Smithsonian magazine, MTV and Military Officers Association of America.
The transition from life in Northeast Mississippi to the hustle and bustle of D.C. “just happened,” Crum said.
“I didn’t have a plan,” she said. “I sent applications all over the nation. … It wasn’t that I wanted to leave Mississippi necessarily. I was ready to take on a challenge wherever.”
When people find out she’s from Mississippi, they usually comment about the perceived difference of her new location.
“It really wasn’t as bad of an adjustment or culture shock,” she said. “Really, it’s a bigger city with more people. … I think people think of D.C. as a bunch of older, stuffy politicians arguing. But it’s really a lot of younger people living on the Hill.”
Plus, she said, she meets up with other Ole Miss grads to watch ball games.
“It’s a little pocket of home in the big city,” she said. “I miss being able to order sweet tea and nobody looking at me funny.”
But, she loves Washington.
“You can go a whole year and never do the same thing twice,” she said. “You can walk two blocks and hear three different languages. It’s so interesting.”
Her career path is a new one for her family, whose members have been involved with bands at Pontotoc, Northeast Community College, Lafayette High School and South Panola High School.
“My whole family is in music,” she said. “I’m the only kid that went into something else.”
She knew early that she wanted to go into journalism, but the specifics have changed over the years. When the 2009 Ole Miss grad started at the university, she said she had eyes only for a career as a newspaper reporter for a print publication. A professor encouraged her to pick up a video camera. Then she started blogging.
The experience helped her score a job as MTV’s student election correspondent in Mississippi.
That experience parlayed into an internship with the Smithsonian Institution’s monthly magazine in D.C., where she specialized in its web presence.
“It was the first time I’d been away from home by myself for three months,” she said.
When it came time to graduate, Crum sent applications to organizations across the country.
She accepted a job at MOAA and moved to D.C. two years ago.
Then she saw a listing on JournalismJobs.com for an opening at The Washington Post and she applied.
“I never thought I’d hear back from them in a million years,” she said
They did call her, and she later got the job.
“I’ve read The Washington Post for so long,” she said. “You learn a lot when you are surrounded by the best people in the business.”
She’s an interactivity producer for the organization and is responsible for booking live question and answer sessions daily. She gets to the office around 7 a.m. and reads news and sees what readers are asking questions about. Reader interest determines the daily Qamp&A topic, she said.
For example, if the WaPo is covering a court case and readers are asking questions about a story, Crum will book a 30-minute live chat session with the reporter in which readers ask their questions.
“We make the reporters accessible to you,” she said. “It’s something that’s so simple and it makes sense.”
She also works on the WaPo’s presence on Twitter (@PostLive and @WashingtonPost) and Facebook.
Plus, she helps moderate the tens of thousands of comments on the site daily.
“My job is basically to feel out the community and build community on the site,” she said. “It’s a fun job. I get to work with a lot of editors and reporters and producers all over the newsroom.”
She doesn’t know where she’ll be in 10 years – reiterating her “no master plan” plan.
“I hope I can continue going where life takes me and doing what makes me happy,” she said. “Journalism is ever changing. You never know where it’s going to go. You just have to change with it.”
She said she’s learned a lot in the past few years, including that it’s possible to pursue a career without being connected to the so-called right people.
“If you work hard and let your resume speak for itself, that’s more valuable than people realize,” she said.
She’s also grown to appreciate her hometown more.
“I love living in D.C., but there are some things you just can’t beat about small-town Mississippi,” she said. “The people, the atmosphere, the food, the strong sense of community – people who don’t live there don’t get it, and the people who do sometimes take it for granted. I did. And I’ll never take it for granted again.”
carlie.kollath@journalinc.com