Amanda Ziadeh knew from an early age she wanted to be a journalist. Her dad, a flower shop owner who had emigrated from Lebanon in 1987, would regale her with stories about growing up in a village in his home country and tell her about the Lebanese civil war — so storytelling was always in her DNA.
So when time came for the Frederick, Maryland, native to go to college, the choice was a no-brainer: she would study journalism. After graduating from the University of Maryland Philip Merrill College of Journalism, Ziadeh began her career as a reporter covering lifestyle, food and travel for USA Today. She then transitioned into the government technology space working as a reporter for GCN and as senior reporter for GovernmentCIO Media.
Ziadeh joined WashingtonExec as a senior writer in March to cover the government contracting’s C-suite leaders as well government executives. Since March, she has interviewed and profiled over 50 CXOs — and that list just keeps growing.
Here, Ziadeh shares more about her background and what she looks forward to covering in the near term.
Why did you want to become a journalist?
My passion for journalism really stems from my passion for writing and telling stories. When I was about 6 years old, I wrote my first story in an empty notebook from my elementary school’s supply store. That’s my earliest memory of feeling really excited and passionate about writing.
From there, I stuck to journals and creative writing courses until I was able to turn my passion for writing into a passion for telling other people’s stories. In high school, I joined the school newspaper staff and yearbook committee. I even wrote a children’s story in French. So, I decided to go to college for journalism and continue that passion professionally.
How did government technology pique your interest?
I grew up and went to college in the DMV, so I was constantly aware of the political climate and government news — but I wasn’t really interested in breaking or covering political news. Considering the evolution of technology during my generation’s upbringing, by the time I graduated college, tech was such a hot topic, and the convergence of advanced technology and government was really starting to take off.
I honestly kind of fell into that particular beat, but I quickly became fascinated by how government is using the tech we use everyday to enhance the lives of citizens. There is also so much going on in gov tech, it’s hard to ignore.
Now that you’re covering government contracting, what are the stories you want to write?
I want to continue writing about the people in the industry. I think everyone has a story worth sharing, and in govcon, those stories are often untold. I also want to cover the programs and projects in govcon making a difference, because there is no shortage of ways in which technology is being used to protect our service members, enhance the lives of veterans, improve health care services and make citizens’ lives more connected. And all those stories typically have a government contractor behind them.
What’s the biggest challenge covering this beat?
The biggest challenge for me is trying to condense these stories of people and programs into word count-appropriate articles. I love feature writing, and I love detail, but I know there’s a limit to what people will read online.
I am the first to admit that brevity hasn’t always been my strongest suit, but sometimes, these technical projects require background information that I feel the reader needs to know in order to understand the impact.
Other times, a govcon leader has such an interesting career path or “how I got here” story, that I want to share it all. And mostly, there’s just too much good information worth sharing, too many noteworthy people to cover and endless govcon projects citizens should know exist.
The original challenge though was definitely learning all the government acronyms and technical vocabulary. It’s important to write about technology in a way the average reader will understand, and that took some getting used to.
What are some of the most important issues govcon leaders face today?
From what I have gathered from interviews and just talking to govcon leaders, it’s finding and retaining the necessary tech talent; information sharing between the public and private sector; and securing our networks from adversaries. The technology is there, but it needs to be implemented with the right people, processes and policies in place to really make an impact.
What will you focus next on? What are you most excited about?
WashingtonExec has given me the unique opportunity to meet, interview and profile GovCon executives, from CEOs, founders and company presidents to HR executives and artificial intelligence experts. To date, I have interviewed more than 50 executives in five months, and the list keeps growing. So, I’m really looking forward to sharing those stories.
We usually meet in person, and the conversations are always enlightening and captivating. The final product weaves the executive’s educational and professional background with his or her passions, motivators and current role, and it’s really a holistic perspective into the lives of these govcon leaders.
I’m also really excited to launch WashingtonExec’s podcast, which will really bring those same conversations to life on radio.
When you profile someone new, how do you gain that person’s trust? How do you get a good story out of it?
I take a conversational approach to my interviews. I find both parties, myself included, are much more comfortable when the interview feels more like a talk between two friends or colleagues. I also don’t start with the hard stuff — for the profiles in WashingtonExec, I typically ask the interviewees to casually tell me about their background or educational paths first, something they can talk about naturally without thinking too much, and we progress from there.
I also try to connect with and relate to the interviewee whenever I can, and respond with natural reactions rather than “OK, next question.” That’s why follow-up questions are so important, too. It shows you’re really listening, and are truly interested in what the interviewee has to say, rather than rushing to the next question on your list.