My college career has been a little convoluted: four years, three schools, one semester off, one summer abroad. I’m graduating on time “by the grace of god,” or so my mom says.
In August of 2012, I attended Washington College, a small liberal arts school where I was an English major. I received a large scholarship and thought I wanted a small school experience, despite the lack of journalism offerings. I joined the school newspaper and got an internship at a lifestyle magazine in Annapolis.
At the magazine, I learned how to turn a blurb-writing and calendar-inputting internship into three real stories about local music. I learned that no, I probably shouldn’t wear those “cool” jean shorts with tights to an office. I learned that transcribing interviews is usually a waste of time when my editor asked what I was doing one day.
“You’ve got to find a faster way to do that,” she said, frowning at me. “Get a voice recorder and mark down when they say something good. Don’t try to transcribe it off a video.”
The next day, I bought a voice recorder. I started introducing myself as a journalist. I wasn’t—not yet.
When I found the small, rural school was (not so) slowly driving me insane, I transferred to my original dream school: Emerson College. It housed one of the best journalism programs in the country in the middle of a vibrant city.
At Emerson, I did my first “man on the street interview” for an entry-level journalism course.
“You want us to just go ask strangers about Congress?” one of the students asked, half-joking.
“Yeah,” answered our professor, a retired Washington Post reporter, his eyes widening just slightly. “What do you think this is?”
I discovered I had a knack for making complete strangers feel comfortable with me in a matter of moments—even though I couldn’t get a last name from one man, who naturally had the best quote.
“You have to get their last names,” my professor explained with a huff.
“I tried,” I said.
He made a noise at me and I probably walked away thinking he was a hard-a–. Now, I would say he just wanted me to do my d— job. I had better luck with the two student magazines about Boston life and music.
“You have this weird ability to find the exactly right word to describe a band’s sound,” one editor told me.
I felt good. I introduced myself as a journalist. I was not one.
When health issues forced me home in the fall of my sophomore year, I took a semester off. I got better. When I came to Temple in the spring of 2014, I was surprised by how much a journalism major was expected to know. Despite my interest in print, I was expected to be proficient in video and photo as well—something I hadn’t encountered at Emerson.
I joined The Temple News in the fall as an art beat writer. I had never written about art before in my life, but I decided to give it a go. I learned how to be a reporter for the first time in my life, asking tougher questions and letting silence fill the space when I thought my interviewee had more to say.
“You’ve got a big vocabulary,” said the assistant Arts & Entertainment editor. “But you need to think more about finding the best word for something, not just the one that sounds good.”
I returned to The Temple News for my senior year as the Arts & Entertainment editor after an internship at the Inquirer. I’ve worked on stories about sexual assault, redevelopment and people in re-entry after incarceration. To tackle these stories, I had to ask harder questions. I had to listen harder. I had to be a better reporter.
I learned those skills from my colleagues at The Temple News—I’ve collaborated with them, screamed at them, laughed with them, thrown empty coffee cups across the room at them during disagreements and sang Kendrick Lamar’s “Alright” at the top of our lungs when we felt anything but.
I’ve put together a print product every week, run a team of writers and figured out how to work with people from different backgrounds, all for the sake of making something. By some grace of god, we make a paper every week—and a d— good one at that.
Recently at a job interview, I was questioned about my lack of hard news stories in my portfolio. I shrugged.
“If you give me a story, I’ll get it done,” I said. “I’m a reporter.”
And for the first time, I was. That doesn’t mean I’m done. Learning never ends for a journalist—we discover something with every story, during every day, and I can’t wait for what I’ll learn next.
Victoria Mier can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter @victoria_mier_.