Hopkins Globetrotter Still on the Fast Track

By Christine Stutz

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After a childhood that took her from Vienna to Belgrade to Washington, D.C., and Jakarta, it’s only fitting that Marian Smith ’05 would make her career covering the globe. Only now she’s doing it from her desk at msnbc.com in London.

As an editor-producer for the online news organization, Smith has a high-pressure job producing the website’s front page and updating stories about everything from Europe’s economic woes to the nuclear disaster in Japan. “It’s really, really busy, all the time,” she says.

With both parents in the Foreign Service, Smith grew accustomed to moving every few years as a child, changing not just countries but continents. Having at one time or another spoken Serbo-Croatian, Indonesian, French, and Italian, she says with a laugh, “I grew up with this dilemma, where am I from?”

Although she attended high school in London, Smith, now 29, wanted to attend college in the States, and Johns Hopkins was her first choice. “A big appeal of Hopkins was the strong international community,” she says. She pursued a major in international studies until discovering a passion for literature and writing, and changed her major to English. Smith says she especially enjoyed Professor Allen Grossman’s courses on the Bible and Shakespeare.

After graduating from Johns Hopkins, Smith entered an 18-month graduate program in journalism at New York University, with a focus on cultural reporting and criticism. For a time she fancied herself following in the footsteps of film critic Pauline Kael. “I really enjoyed it, but I discovered that I prefer hard news,” she says. She returned to London in 2007 and took a job on the news desk at the BBC. “They were just beginning to integrate all three forms of media: radio, TV, and Web,” she says, “so it was pretty exciting.”

Smith met some people who worked at NBC News and msnbc.com and put in an application there. That began what she describes as a “very long interview process.” While waiting for an opening, she held a couple of other writing jobs, including a stint at the company that publishes Monocle magazine, before getting the call to join msnbc.com in 2010. “It has been two years, and I absolutely love it,” she says.

London is where the globetrotting Smith is finally putting down roots—at least for the foreseeable future. She and her husband, Dan Montalbano, who works for CBS Interactive, recently bought a house there.

When Smith is at work, she and her colleagues are responsible for updating the website to cover world events that occur on their shift. MSNBC, based in Redmond, Wash., has bureaus in New York, London, and Washington, D.C., with the latter focused mostly on U.S. political coverage. Content management duties for msnbc.com are assigned on the basis of time zones, Smith explains.

The team in Washington state covers news that is breaking on their shift, and the London team comes on board at 6 a.m. London time. Seven hours later, the London team hands the reins to their New York colleagues, who pass it back to the Redmond team for the overnight.

Smith described 2011 as an “insane” year for news, starting with the shooting of then U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords and including the Arab Spring, several natural disasters, and the wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton, which was followed just two days later by the killing of Osama bin Laden. The European debt crisis and the U.S. Republican primary have kept them hopping as well.

And 2012 should be just as eventful, she says, with London hosting both the Olympics and Queen Elizabeth’s Jubilee celebration this summer.

But for Smith, as for any journalist, the pressure and fast pace are part of what she loves about the job. “As much as I stress about it, I think we all get a really big kick out of it,” she says. “And when we’ve done something well, it’s so satisfying.”