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April 13, 2015

From Cleveland to the capital: Meghan Dubyak talks life as a senator's communications director

By Abbey White

computersYou might not be familiar with her name or face, but on April 2, members of Cleveland State University’s School of Communication learned that Meghan Dubyak is easily one of the most important people working in Sen. Sherrod Brown’s office.

In an invitation-only event, students had the opportunity to hear Dubyak share her journey from classroom to Capitol Hill. During the hour-long presentation, Sen. Brown’s director of communications discussed her role as part of the senator’s communications team and explored the relationship between her work and the evolving world of politics.

The Cleveland Stater spoke with Dubyak exclusively about her educational journey and learned how college prepared her for the demands of her present position.

An Ohio native, Dubyak received her communications start at Shaker Heights High School. It was there that her interest in journalism laid the foundations of a promising and exciting career.

"The three journalism courses I took at Shaker Heights High School were invaluable," Dubyak said. “They provided early training on news writing and journalistic ethics, and sparked my interest in public policy.”

Those interests followed her to the east coast, where she spent the next four years studying at Cornell University. While there, Dubyak took advantage of available public policy, politics and journalism-related courses, as well as various on-campus activities. That passion and dedication would lead to an on-campus internship working for Cornell University’s Office of Government Affairs where she learned valuable skills that would ready her for life after college.

"I took as many writing and literature courses as I could, wrote for the Cornell News Service and read as much as possible," Dubyak said. "[One] college internship required me to assemble news clips of articles that would be of interest to the university’s government affairs team. Reading a diverse range of news each day and filtering it for a specific audience was a valuable skill."

That wouldn’t be the only pre-graduation job experience Dubyak would earn. She also worked for New York City Council and for a New York City Mayoral Office. In the end, the extra mile Dubyak went paid off.

"Extracurricular activities and internships definitely enhanced my coursework and prepared me for my job," Dubyak said. "Through the student newspaper to the debate team, I learned how to research, write quickly and effectively and think on my feet. These skills have come in useful in the classroom and in my career. I also enjoyed interning in city government and in my university’s government affairs office — this allowed me to see the effect of local and federal laws."

Following her graduation from Cornell University in 2004, Dubyak planned to return to her home state.

However, with limited opportunities and positions available in Ohio for someone with her interests, Dubyak ultimately chose to stay in New York. It was there that she landed her first out of college job: an entry level position for a New York congressman.

"I was lucky to work in an office that promoted from within, so [I] quickly gained new responsibilities and was promoted to communications director," Dubyak said.

While in New York, Dubyak paid her dues and honed her skills. In time, an opportunity presented itself back in Ohio with the state’s senior senator and Dubyak didn’t think twice about applying.

"When I saw an opening for press secretary in Sen. Brown’s office, I jumped at the opportunity to not only work for my home state senator, but to work for a champion of working and middle class Americans," Dubyak said.

In 2008, Dubyak joined Sen. Brown’s communications team in the role of press secretary and after only two years was promoted to what is now her current position, director of communications.

Dubyak has worked for the senator in that very key role for more than four years, serving as the public face of the senator. On any given day, Dubyak is tasked with preparing Sen. Brown for public appearances and media interviews, on top of communicating with Ohioans about his latest efforts.

"My job is about communicating what’s happening on Capitol Hill — from the Senate floor to various agencies — and what that means for Ohio," she said. "In a state of 11 million people, that means overseeing various methods of communication: radio, print, television, digital media, e-newsletters and speeches on the Senate floor or events in Ohio."

The timing of her arrival in Ohio and her promotion meant she was around for his latest re-election bid. With elections now heavily bombarded by special interest money — a result of a Supreme Court decision that approved corporate personhood — the world Dubyak first worked in is drastically different than the one she’s in now.

Dubyak got a taste of how much changed during the senator’s 2012 campaign. Considered the most hotly contested senatorial race at the time, more special interest money was being funneled into the state against Sen. Brown than any other candidate in the country, according to Dubyak.

"He takes on the big banks, he takes on the oil companies, he takes on the pharmaceutical companies, and as a result, a lot of those big corporate special interests who have tons of money took him on during the 2012 election," Dubyak said.

The experience of working on the campaign offered Dubyak the chance to interact with Ohio’s 11 million citizens and the state’s various media markets — 12 to be exact — using the skills she’s honed since graduation.

In addition to knowing how to tackle a changing election environment, Dubyak has also faced several other new demands: utilizing social media and combating dwindling newsroom resources.

"Social media continue to evolve, and require all of us to learn on the job," Dubyak said. "We’re continuing to find new and innovative ways to communicate with Ohioans."

While many in her position were not formally trained in social media use, Dubyak’s on- the-job training has helped the senator’s office effectively reach constituents through popular social channels like Twitter and Facebook. The office is even taking part in its own hashtag.

"We’re actually involved in a hashtag campaign called #NotAnotherNAFTA," Dubyak said.

"Right now the president is negotiating a trade pact with 11 or 12 Asian Pacific countries, including Japan. Ohio’s really seen the effects of past trade deals [so] the senator is arguing that before we do any trade deals, let’s first make sure we have strong protections in there for American companies and American workers. We’ve been using ‘Not Another NAFTA (North American Free Trade Agreement)’ to drum up activity," she said.

In addition to acting as a new communication channel for Sen. Brown’s office, social media also helps Dubyak fill in the holes left by lagging political news coverage.

"We know that newsrooms are being asked to do more with less resources," Dubyak said. "But with that said, so much of the political coverage is focused on the campaigns and the race to get to elected office, rather than the policymaking that goes on once the campaign is over. I think all Americans would like to see more coverage of policymaking in addition to campaigning."

Despite media coverage shortages, Sen. Brown’s office has maintained a generally positive image in the eyes of constituents and journalists when many other representatives have fallen short. Dubyak attributes this largely to the senator’s approach to his work.

"As the husband of a journalist, Sen. Brown values open lines of communication with the media. Our job is to follow that example in the communications office," Dubyak said.