From the Black Box to the White House

  • Josh Lederman boards Air Force One At Andrews Air Force Base for a trip with President Barack Obama to Asheville, North Carolina.

  • President Barack Obama hands Josh Lederman a scoop of ice cream  during a visit to Seward, Alaska, in September 2015.

As a child, Josh Lederman (IAA 02-03, IAC 00-01) dreamed of performing on the world’s biggest stages. Instead, he now works in one of the world’s smallest offices—although his audience is bigger than he ever imagined.

That tiny office, known as “the booth,” is Josh’s office in the west wing of the White House, and Lederman’s audience is the entire American nation. As a White House correspondent for the Associated Press—with a specific assignment to President Barack Obama—Lederman’s reporting is featured in thousands of newspapers worldwide and reaches millions of Americans every day.

And every day, Lederman uses the skills he learned as a student at Interlochen Arts Academy. “As a journalist, I have to try and communicate really complicated information to common people, which really boils down to storytelling,” he said. “Being able to think creatively about situations and apply the craft of storytelling is crucial in journalism, just like it is in theatre.”

One might anticipate that one of America’s top journalists would have chosen creative writing as his art of choice. But by early elementary school, young Josh Lederman had fallen in love with theatre and was already dreaming of a future as an actor. Around this time, he was introduced to the idea of Interlochen by one of his best friends, who had been performing with him in theatre productions since first grade. “I remember him telling me that there’s this place in Michigan where they have a high school, and you can live with other artists,” he said. “It sounded like a magical thing.”

By eighth grade, however, Lederman had discovered that the seemingly mythical magic of Interlochen was real. “I found out that there was also a Camp, so I went to Camp for two years and I loved it there,” he said.  After two years of Camp, he decided to enroll full-time at Interlochen Arts Academy for his junior and senior years of high school. “I wanted to spend my whole year doing what I love rather than just the summer,” he said. “I also wanted to be competitive for getting into college for musical theatre.”

Ultimately, Lederman chose to pursue anthropology at George Washington University, but he never lost his passion for theatre. “After college, I moved to New York and was trying to make it as an actor,” he said. “I went to grad school briefly at NYU in their musical theatre master’s program. I was doing some performing in New York and enjoying getting to have that experience and trying out what had been my passion.”

He quickly found that the life of a working artist wasn’t easy. “I was feeling frustrated that I was spending more of my time looking for work than getting to actually do theatre and music and dance, which is what I actually wanted to spend my time on,” he said. “I wanted to try something new.”

As Lederman contemplated a new direction for his life, he remembered one of his other passions: politics. “I was always really interested in politics and global affairs,” he said. “I had even taken a number of classes about it at the Academy. Then I found the program in Broadcast Journalism at Northwestern University.”

Lederman quickly worked his way up the ranks in the media, starting out as an intern for CNN’s The Situation Room with Wolf Blitzer and spending several years in the Associated Press’s Jerusalem office. He became a White House correspondent for the AP in 2013.

Once again, Lederman found that the skills he developed at Interlochen were a major asset—surprisingly, his theatre skills in particular. “Training in the theatre program really prepared me well to operate in the public sphere,” he explained. “In my job, I’m in the public eye a lot, and I appear on television relatively frequently. Thinking on your feet and being aware of how your self-presentation is going to be perceived is a huge asset.”

Being a White House correspondent is a demanding job. Lederman wakes up early to read everything that has been published in other media outlets about the President overnight. Then, it’s off to the White House for another busy day in “the booth.”

“Throughout the day I’ll be covering events at the White House that the President is appearing at, chasing any stories that are breaking and trying to figure out what’s happening next,” he said. “Frequently the president is on the road, so we’ll travel with him. Tomorrow I’m heading out with him to Nevada, and then Hawaii, then China and Laos.”

With the upcoming presidential election, Lederman’s schedule will become even more hectic. Although he isn’t assigned to cover the election, the change in the nation’s political leadership will bring changes for Lederman on a professional level. “It’s a challenge, because so much of my job is relationships and building relationships with sources,” he said. “For there to be a turnover of the whole government, it’s like starting from scratch.”

Despite the challenges, he is looking forward experiencing the workings of government under a different leader, as Barack Obama has always been the president during Lederman’s tenure as an AP correspondent. “It’s very exciting to get to see how all the levels of government can work differently under a different person and staff,” he said. “I need to break out of the model of thinking I’ve been under with Obama.”

Lederman’s busy schedule means that he seldom practices his art anymore—which is something he hopes to change in the future. “One of the big commitments I’ve made to myself over the next few years is to build [music and acting] back into my life,” he said, adding that he was considering joining a local choir as an artistic outlet.

Lederman’s advice to young artists is a reflection of the twists and turns of his own career. “Try not to get fixated on someone else’s vision of what a successful and gratifying career related to your art is or looks like,” he said. “There are so many opportunities to do things that are meaningful and worthwhile and also creative and artistically fulfilling that are out-of-the-box or not what looks conventional when you’re looking at it from a rigid standpoint.”

And in Lederman’s case, an out-of-the-box opportunity took him all the way to a tiny box in the White House.

—Melissa Luby

In June of 2018, Josh Lederman joined NBC News as a political reporter on the national security and politics investigative team.

You can follow Josh Lederman on Twitter. Learn more about Interlochen Arts Academy’s Theatre programs.