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Post Watch: “Earning My Stripes”

Despite her great stories, Caitlin Gibson isn’t even a Post reporter. Photograph by Chris Leaman.

Could it be that one of the Post’s most promising Style writers doesn’t even work in the newsroom?

Meet Caitlin Gibson, the Post’s legal administrator. She wrote “When Heroin Hits Home,” a pair of articles about a heroin ring in Northern Virginia that made many parents pray their teenagers would steer clear of drug addiction.

“She has good reporting instincts and deep sensitivity and is a natural writer,” says Style editor Lynn Medford.

Gibson, 27, read news stories by Tom Jackman and Jerry Markon about teens in Centreville: Some dealt heroin, some overdosed and died, some had been prosecuted. “Who were these kids?” she asks. “I wanted to get into the guts of why and how it happened.”

Gibson grew up in Olney. She went to Sherwood High and graduated from the University of Maryland in 2004 with a major in creative writing. She landed a job writing for Discovery Communications’ internal newswire but hungered to write for the Post. She joshed online with Gene Weingarten. He suggested she join the paper, but the only job she could land was working for then-counsel Mary Ann Werner.

“But I really wanted to write,” Gibson says.

So she moonlighted. She built a clip file by writing for the Montgomery County Gazette. She wrote guest blog posts for Weingarten and Joel Achenbach. She wrote for the Sunday magazine and the Health section.

She pitched the heroin story to the Post Magazine, and editors said yes. But when the magazine was relaunched this fall with kinder, gentler stories, the heroin piece was orphaned. Medford gave it a home in Style.

Gibson’s two-part story ran in November, bringing readers into suburban homes where parents discovered their sons were dealing drugs and one father found his daughter dead on her bedroom floor from an overdose.

Gibson covered court proceedings and interviewed the families.

“It was such a raw thing watching families going through such trauma,” she says. “As a person, I didn’t want to ask hard questions; as a reporter, I must. I walked the line between feeling compassionate but doing what I had to do and staying composed—until I got back in my car.”

You can still find Caitlin Gibson in the seventh-floor legal department.

“I’ve been earning my stripes, building my clips, showing I can do the work,” she says. “Maybe someone will hire me.”

This article first appeared in the December 2009 issue of The Washingtonian. For more articles from that issue, click here.

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