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Examples of Work
Wrestling takes a slam.
Latino population soars, but politics lags
Dutch church struggling to keep doors open
What's the most important thing you learned as a high school journalist?
I learned so much as a high school reporter at the Hillcrest (High School) Hurricane in Dallas. I had an opportunity to see the entire publishing process from multiple aspects because the staff rotated duties such as selling ads, designing the paper and editing stories. I learned how much of a collaborative process journalism is and that you have to have numerous people performing well to produce good journalism. I also learned the basic skills that helped me in college and beyond. Those basic skills don't change whether you're writing for your high school paper or the largest paper in the country; you just hone those skills.
What motivated you to become a professional journalist?
Journalism really seemed like such a fun profession. It seems cliché, but I really enjoy meeting new people and learning new things. I also enjoy writing. The professional journalists that were my mentors in high school seemed like intelligent people who really enjoyed a challenge. As an African-American, I also was concerned about diversity in the field of journalism. I think it's important to have people from a variety of different backgrounds as journalists, each bringing their own perspectives and experiences.
What are your main duties at the Star-Ledger?
My main responsibility is covering three towns just outside of Newark, New Jersey's largest city. Anything that goes on in those towns is my responsibility, from the police to the political scene to human-interest stories. It's good because you get to be your own boss. I tell my editor what I'm going to write about because I'm the eyes and ears for those areas that I cover. I also get to jump in and report on the big news events. Since we are right across the Hudson River from New York, that can be very interesting.
How do you effectively pitch a story idea to your editors?
The first thing I do is make sure I've done my homework. That means that I have a clear idea of what the story is about and how I want to write it. I also try to anticipate any questions my editor might ask and then make sure I'm able to answer them. A good reporter will be able to regularly pitch ideas to her editor because she knows what is happening on her beat. If you're waiting on your editor to assign you story ideas, then that's not a good sign -- journalists should be inquisitive.
Do you work crazy hours?
If big news breaks I may have to pull extra hours. As a beat reporter covering a group of towns, I sometimes have to work nights to go to various meetings to get to know sources and cull story ideas. It can be a pain sometimes. I'm not going to lie -- I have worked 12 and 14-hour days, but not all the time. You can still definitely have a social life, though.
What's the best part of your job?
I really enjoy being able to say that I develop my own ideas and have some level of autonomy on my job. I also enjoy when my stories have an impact. I have written stories that have made government officials change their policies and that have helped people in trouble. It is great to see that your stories have had an impact on people's lives. I'm also not attached to my desk all day. Before I came to the Star-Ledger, I worked at a business publication in New York. I was chained to my desk and hated it. I quit after six months.
How do you stay focused when you're on deadline?
I just try to block out the rest of the world and concentrate on the task at hand. Reporters have a way of sending out signals when they are on deadline to let everyone else know to leave them alone. Being well prepared is also a way to handle deadlines. If a major story breaks in one of my towns, I have a list of contact numbers on computer. That way, I can maximize my time. Instead of looking for telephone numbers, I can spend time re-working my lead or tightening the nut graph.
How has technology (the Web, etc.) changed the way you research stories?
Technology is great. Here at the Star-Ledger, we have a variety of databases available. We can use many of these databases from our desk. These days, an unlisted number is not an impediment to reaching an important source. If I want to chart and compare demographics of the area I cover, I can gather all that information through our Census interface. Everyone at the Star-Ledger also has Web access from their own computer. The Web can help you find sources or get information from an organization's Web site. We also have excellent librarians here who are skilled in the most advanced ways to find information using the technology available. Technology has definitely made my job a lot easier.
What advice do you have for aspiring journalists?
Write early and write often. Take every chance you can get to write. Look for mentors, people who can answer your questions honestly. Also, aspiring journalists should read newspapers. Reading novels, plays and short stories is also a good idea. Reading is the best way to learn how people use the language and can even spark your own creative juices. The most important advice that I can give is that journalism should be fun. It's not going to be fun all the time. Some stories are tedious. But, overall, you should be able to say you enjoy writing articles and learning new things.