Beyond NYU: Reporting the midterm elections for an ABC docuseries

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Aaliya Luthra

Libby Cathey and her fellow reporters have been working on a documentary series months before the midterm elections. (Illustration by Aaliya Luthra)

Abby Wilson, News Editor

With midterm elections looming, many are just now tuning in to a number of high-stakes races across the country. But Libby Cathey — along with six other young political reporters — has been gearing up for months. In “Power Trip,” an ABC docuseries now playing on Hulu, viewers get an inside look into on-the-ground coverage across 12 states.

Cathey is a multimedia reporter with ABC News and a Gallatin alum who concentrated in broadcast journalism, entertainment production and performance. She completed courses in the Gallatin School of Individualized Study, the Tisch School of the Arts and the College of Arts & Science. After receiving a master’s degree in journalism from Columbia University, Cathey’s career in the industry took off. 

In an interview with WSN, Cathey spoke about her current coverage in Arizona, how it feels to be in front of the camera and the most challenging aspects of reporting the midterm elections.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

WSN: How did you first get involved with “Power Trip?” 

Cathey: It really began when I started at ABC News more than three years ago. At a career fair before graduating from Columbia Journalism School, I pitched my desire to cover politics to the ABC News booth. Not long after, I accepted a job as a desk assistant in Washington, D.C., learning the ins and outs of the network. I then moved up to multimedia reporter for ABCNews.com before applying to be a campaign embed in the spring. After several interview rounds, I was selected for the assignment. “Power Trip” made the job all the more exciting. 

Produced by George Stephanopoulos Productions and Noble Beast Productions, “Power Trip” began streaming on Sept. 25, and episodes are released weekly. In the mini docuseries, former White House communications director George Stephanopoulos is a mentor to Cathey — along with Abby Cruz, Hannah Demissie, Lalee Ibssa, Will McDuffie, Paulina Tam and NYU alum Miles Cohen — as they flit between newsrooms and on-the-ground reporting.

WSN: What is it like to see your reporting experience on the docuseries? Tell me about your first time watching it.

Cathey: I’m accustomed to being behind the camera, so I was pretty nervous to watch myself back on tape in the first episode. I was in my hotel room in Phoenix after getting up at 4 a.m. for my first live network TV hit on “This Week With George Stephanopoulos.” So sleep-deprived and anxious, I turned it on. But I had nothing to be nervous about. The show is honest and really well produced. I’ve laughed, I’ve cried, I’ve related to my fellow embeds. I hope more people will follow along with us through the election.

While Cathey was an undergraduate student at NYU, she participated in two summer reporting intensives — one which took place in Accra, Ghana — and studied abroad in Florence, Italy. She said the relationships she formed at the university and the resources available to her were instrumental in helping her to find and pursue internship and job opportunities post-graduation. 

Cathey completed internships at “The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon,” the “Today” show, SiriusXM Radio and KATV Channel 7 News, all before graduating from NYU. Before landing a job with ABC, she worked as a story editor for Snapchat, and a talent and travel coordinator on “The Ellen Degeneres Show.”

WSN: Did you ever imagine that you’d be featured on a TV show for reporting? How does it feel?

Cathey: While I was a student at NYU, I daydreamed about producing documentaries one day, but I never imagined being the subject of one myself. It was, at first, a trip to watch myself back on Hulu, mistakes and all, but it’s neat to have a record of my progress and to be able to show a behind-the-scenes look at my job to family and friends across the country. The embed role itself feels like a dream come true, but it’s really the culmination of years of hard work, so it’s all super fulfilling. 

WSN: What has been the biggest challenge you’ve faced while reporting?

Cathey: Trying to talk to candidates who don’t necessarily want to talk to the press. It forces me to be creative in my approaches and build better relationships with campaigns, but it can be frustrating when you have a specific question on behalf of voters but can’t get close enough to a candidate to ask them about it. It’s important to stay ready in case you do get a chance. 

Cathey is covering several midterm races in Arizona, which has become a battleground state leading up to the general election in 2024. All nine of the state’s seats in the U.S. House of Representatives are up for re-election, as well as secretary of state, governor and state attorney general. Arizona has garnered attention in recent months for right-leaning and election-denying candidates. The state is a tossup this year, with analysts unsure if it will swing right or left.

WSN: What’s the most unique experience you’ve had so far in your respective states while reporting?

Cathey: The most unique experience I’ve had is reporting on the Navajo Nation Parade — the only parade in the U.S. to my knowledge that crosses state lines, from New Mexico to Arizona, with thousands of Navajos lining more than four miles of the route. There, I pet my first piglet, chatted with kids, scrambled for candy raining from floats, and witnessed Sen. Mark Kelly criss cross the parade route on a skateboard. 

WSN: What has been your favorite part so far of being a part of this series?

Cathey: Talking to voters, meeting fellow reporters and traveling to new places — which all go hand in hand because they happen every day. As I’ve made stops across the state, Arizonans and the local press have helped my reporting tremendously. I’ve met more people in the last two months than in the last two years, and it’s fun to connect with other human beings. 

If you know of an NYU student, professor or alum making change beyond the university, contact [email protected].

Contact Abby Wilson at [email protected]