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Political Journalist Alumnus Witnesses History Makers at Work

May 22, 2013


As a founding student at UC Merced, Justin Duckham, ’09, trudged up the hill every day for classes. Now, he spends many of his days on a different hill — Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C.

“I go to a couple of briefings each day on the hill or at the Pentagon,” said Duckham, senior Washington correspondent with Talk Radio News Service. “There’s a lot of running around trying to get good sound bites, but I’m watching history unfold.”

Duckham, who was a history major, landed his job through an internship he began while he was in the UCDC program.

“I wouldn’t have been able to make it over here without UC Merced,” he said. “Other schools had more competition for UCDC.”

After he finished his internship and graduated from UC Merced, he returned to Talk Radio News Service as a temporary employee. Through hard work and tenacity, he turned that into a permanent job. He’s been an occasional guest on Fox News and writes for a music blog on the side.

Duckham credits what he learned in his UC Merced history courses — especially about the Cold War — for his perspective on the news. He sees much of his experience through a historical lens.

He attended the funeral of Neil Armstrong, which he likens to a service for Columbus or Magellan — explorers whom history will never forget.

He covered election night 2012 from Chicago, seeing firsthand the response in Barack Obama’s hometown when the president was re-elected.

He had a drink with venerated columnist Chris Hitchens, which was “a huge deal, like hanging out with Mark Twain,” Duckham said.

He’s even interviewed Dan Rather and made the veteran newsman chuckle by saying he felt like a minor league back bencher playing with Babe Ruth.

One thing has surprised him — the amount of gray area in the real world. In a way, it was something he said he was prepared to learn because some of his professors, including Gregg Herken, Jan Goggans and Jeff Yoshimi, emphasized taking a broad view of the world.

“Even after I left UC Merced I had a black-and-white view of politics,” Duckham said. “I viewed people with opinions different than mine as mustache-twirling villains or Darth Vader types. Now, my view has become more nuanced. I see the human side of politics. I understand that very few people are legitimately evil.”

That perspective serves Duckham well as a political journalist covering Washington D.C.

“I’m enjoying one of the best jobs in the world, the people I see and meet, the access I’ve gotten,” Duckham said. “The fact that I’m this weird punk-rock kid from California in the presidential motorcade or in the White House or on the ground for election night, it’s amazing. It feels a little surreal.”

He remembers that he wasn’t sure about attending a brand-new UC campus when he first arrived. But that seems ironic now.

“Considering how things worked out,” he said, “the friends I made and the opportunities the school gave me, I don’t have any regrets.”

Brenda Ortiz

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