By Alondra Sierra
I was exactly where I wanted to be: lost in a transit fiasco in Washington, D.C., an unfamiliar city and one of the most dangerous in the country. I was hopping from one Metro train to the next, hoping I would arrive at my destination on time. I was running on two hours of sleep from my overnight layovers.
But none of this mattered, because after finally arriving to the correct station, I walked out from the underground metro and up the steps into heaven. There I was, an aspiring political journalist headed towards The Chronicle of Higher Education, a real newsroom in the epicenter of our nation’s current political circus.
Three months prior to my trip to D.C, I was finishing my second year as a student at UC Santa Barbara (UCSB) when I received an email congratulating me for my acceptance into The Chronicle of Higher Education’s Fall Reporting Workshop. The Chronicle is the largest newspaper in the nation to cover higher education. Publishing news and higher education career opportunities, the newspaper targets university faculty and professionals.
This past summer, The Chronicle selected 20 college journalists from across the U.S to attend its two-day reporting workshop, all expenses paid. The workshop brought together student reporters and editors with the shared goal of strengthening student skills for covering stories on their own campuses.
The news that I was one of the 20 accepted could not have come at a better time in my life. While writing for The Bottom Line, UC Santa Barbara’s independent, student-run weekly newspaper, I was selected to be a beat reporter covering stories in Isla Vista, UCSB’s neighboring community.
My time covering campus and community issues for The Bottom Line further bolstered my dream of becoming a journalist after college. But these aspirations were often tinged by the fear that, after graduating, I would not find an actual job related to journalism and that if I did find a job in journalism, I would not earn enough to make a living.
Doubts like these come around when I hear that yet another newsroom has announced major layoffs or one more beloved, local newspaper has been shut down. Journalism is facing a decline as 36 percent of large newsrooms experienced layoffs from 2017 to April 2018, according to a Pew Research study. So, does this mean that it’s a dying field?
My time at The Chronicle’s workshop taught me otherwise.
On my first day at The Chronicle’s D.C newsroom, I met with Editor-in-Chief Michael G. Riley who told us why he has remained in the newsroom for so many years. Namely, the excitement of chasing answers in pursuit of the truth, tackling stories in spite of ambiguity, and putting those in power accountable. Other senior editors, reporters, and staff present agreed, and it made me feel, for the first time, like my dream of becoming a journalist wasn’t fiction.
Here was a national publication that took the time (and money) to mentor us on how to better cover sensitive, investigative stories on our own campuses. I learned about resources, tools, and reporting tips that I’ve since applied to my own writing as a reporter.
I also met with a number of talented college journalists coming from various levels of experience—some with internships at national publications like NPR and NBC while others were preparing to apply to their first professional newsroom internships. I didn’t have much professional journalism experience myself, but I felt like I was in the right place and people were rooting for me.
On top of the invaluable guidance and networks I made, the workshop taught me that journalism is nowhere near dying. Now more than ever, with the mayhem of “fake news” dominating our nation’s socio-political sphere, responsible journalism is alive and much needed.
Coming back from the workshop and starting my third-year at UCSB, I had the opportunity to develop my skills in journalism through the new Journalism Certificate sponsored by the Writing Program. The certificate offers courses such as “Multiplatform Journalism” and “Data Driven Journalism,” to help students like myself develop our portfolios and learn new approaches to journalism.
I can’t wait for the new journalism experience that awaits me at UCSB.
Alondra Sierra is a third-year English major at UC Santa Barbara.