It was the summer of 2013, and Bre Payton had a choice to make. She had spent her break interning for Watchdog.org, an investigative non-profit news outlet. When the school year came around, they tried to convince her not to go back to school. The offer of a full-time job with good pay was on the table. Payton could take what she saw as the fast track to adulthood, something she had always wanted.
“I think that was the happiest summer of my life,” Payton said. “Going back to school was super depressing. When someone was like; here is your real opportunity to be an adult — choosing to live as a child again was difficult.”
This was a blow to Payton’s ever present practicality, which coexists with a fierce determination and an unassuming humility. She’s striking; her Valley Girl accent adds an unexpected tension to a dry sense of humor and she carries herself with Californian nonchalance. While she’s not always sure of herself, she’s always succeeded due to hard work and an appreciation for opportunities that come her way.
Looking back as a graduate of Spring ’15 with a Political Journalism degree, she doesn’t regret returning to PHC.
But at the time, it meant adding an internship on top of 18 credits.
“I had to skip class a ton to be able to do my job,” Payton said. “But I think it was worth it, you know?”
Her roommate for a year and current RD, Emily Carde, remembers Payton’s trouble finding quiet places on campus to work. Eventually, Payton put signs up on the door to her room reading “Do Not Disturb, Interview in Process.”
Payton worked so hard partly because of the doubt people cast on her future. It seemed like everyone constantly told her how tough it was to find jobs in the field.
“If you’re really meant to be a journalist, [you’re] insane and competitive anyway, so hearing discouraging comments doesn’t [stop] you,” Payton said. “It’s just going to be that much more of a challenge. I worked twice as hard as I would have to make sure I was in a good position.”
Payton took every opportunity that came her way. She freelanced for Watchdog.org, stayed on top of networking, and kept her resume updated. When graduation rolled around, she had a job lined up at Watchdog.org. But she wanted to see what else was out there.
April of her senior year, she trekked every weekend to DC to network. At one of these networking events, she met Ben Domenech, publisher of The Federalist, an online magazine that digs into the underlying ideas and issues with the modern scene of politics, culture, and religion. Payton loved the style and content, so she sent Domenech an email expressing interest in freelancing.
A few days later, they met over coffee. By the end of what turned into a rapid-fire job interview, he offered her a job.
After graduation, she moved to a town-house in Alexandria and became one of eight full-time employees for The Federalist. Payton’s transition from hard news stories to opinion pieces was not without its challenges, but she’s since fallen into the rhythm of her work.
“I’ve learned to write longer pieces, which I didn’t really think was possible,” Payton said. “I don’t like to say a lot of things that aren’t necessary, you know? During my time at PHC, I don’t think I ever met word count on any assignment or paper.”
Now, she can crank out an 800 or 1,000 word piece in a couple hours.
Payton works remotely, and occasionally in her pajamas. She spends her time scheduling social media posts, monitoring news, writing, and planning topics for future articles. Typically she’s at the computer from 8:30 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. She often ends up working a couple evening hours as well. She never really stops.
Payton reports what is currently going on in politics and culture, but with thoughtful (and sometimes somewhat sarcastic) interpretation.
Now, at age 23, she has something of a name on the internet. Her work has been picked up by Fox News, The Washington Times, The Daily Caller, and most recently, Acculturated. She’s also had a mention by The Wall Street Journal.
Recently, her boss asked her to go to New York for an appearance on Fox News’ program, “The Kelly File” with a group of Republican voters. Payton bought a red dress, and went.
The program aired Nov 12. On air, Payton commented on Senator Marco Rubio’s failure to mention Student Loans at the Fox Business Network and the Wall Street Journal GOP debate on Nov. 10.
“I wasn’t there as a reporter, I was just there as a voter. It was still a really cool opportunity, but it was less of a big deal,” Payton said. “It’s not that cool is what I’m trying to say.”
Despite her success, she still struggles with imposter syndrome.
“Someone told me once that you never stop feeling like a fraud, I think it’s totally true,” Payton said. “I always think people will realize I’m not talented at all.”
Eventually, ever the pragmatist, she’s learned to shrug it off.
“It’s been hard to trust myself—to trust my instincts and feel confident about my ideas,” Payton said. “But I just learned that that feeling doesn’t ever stop so I was like, I guess I’ll just pretend. It’s not really talent anyway; it’s a willingness to just keep trying.”