Know your Passion, Challenge Preconceptions, Write, Write, Write, and Talk to People.

Ruxandra Guidi
Border Reporter, KPBS Public Radio & Fronteras
RuxandraGuidi (twitter)

"...I am obsessed with storytelling and a sense of justice in the world..."

Ruxandra Guidi is a Fronteras reporter for KPBS in San Diego. She covers the United States-Mexico border, immigration issues, and culture. Her previous work includes reporting and production for the BBC World public radio news program and National Public Radio. Guidi is an avid user of Twitter and was quick to respond to my tweet for a Q&A session.

When did you know you wanted to be a journalist? Was there a defining moment?

When I was in college at Rutgers University taking Political Science classes and following current event issues in Latin America, I thought journalism would be the best way for me to pursue my passions and have an intellectually stimulating career. On my junior year, I had a professor who really influenced me and encouraged me, Tomas Eloy Martinez, an Argentinian author/journalist, who helped answer a lot of my questions and gave me my very first chance to try it out.

I noticed you have a Masters in Journalism. Our professors here have told us a Masters is not necessary. Do you think your Masters made a difference in getting work and in providing you with additional experience? In what ways? Why did you choose to get a Masters?

That’s true–you don’t need a Masters to do journalism. I think what has been most important in defining my career has been knowing I am obsessed with storytelling and a sense of justice in the world–that passion doesn’t come with school; you just know it’s inside you. That said, my Masters program gave me a lot of the feedback, mentoring, and industry know-how that makes one a better journalist; it exposed me to other young journalists with whom I could collaborate and share ideas with, and it also gave me access to great contacts.

Your original body of work involved an extensive amount of production including documentaries and features. Was your original focus on production? When and how did you evolve into news reporting?

My original focus has always been on telling stories about issues in the world I feel don’t get much attention; whether they be about urban violence or indigenous communities. As I was starting out, the best way for me to learn from others and to get a sense of what it’s like to do a feature from start to finish, I volunteered or worked as a producer for other journalists I respected. That taught me a lot; and gave me a sense of how there’s no one way to produce stories; or do news. All along, I’ve known I wanted to be a reporter, but producing for others was the way I chose to get there.

You have worked for BBC World and NPR. These are two of my dream organizations to work for at some point in my life. How did you network into your work for them?

As I was starting out, I never really thought I’d like to work for one organization or another; I envisioned myself as an independent journalist who is running around the world telling interesting stories about regular people. Well, after a couple of years I realized this wouldn’t be so easy to pull off, but I always kept the focus on the kind of work I’d like to
do, instead of the title. I think that really helped. I was willing to move around a lot for opportunities and was open to freelancing–most jobs I’ve gotten, I’ve heard about by first freelancing for that organization.

How has being fluent in Spanish impacted your career?

Well, I’ve never really thought about that–Spanish is the language I grew up with and speak every day, so I suppose it’s become an important asset to have, especially now, as the Latino population increases in the U.S. I would say it’s not really Spanish what’s shaped my career, but my knowledge of Latin America, because I am from there, and have made a point
to focus on the region throughout my work.

What difference has Twitter made to your reporting? What are the ways you use Twitter to augment your work?

Twitter is amazing. I was very resistant to it at first, because I thought it would suck up a lot of my time (and it does.) But I’ve found the trick is in whom you follow and how much you give back to it; what sorts of questions and issues you raise on it, too. I’ve found it really helpful in keeping me informed about specific issues, in finding contacts, generating story ideas, and keeping in touch with other journalists or people who are far away and yet relevant to the work I do.

Last night I watched FRONTLINE‘s investigative report “Lost in Detention.” I have a very strong passion for the rights of immigrants in the United States, both those here legally and illegally. How do you manage to write from a non-biased perspective in these cases?

I think that as a journalist, you always have to think about the publication you’re doing the work for, who consumes it, and how does it serve the public. I have my own opinions, but I know that journalism isn’t the venue for me to express them. So I handle every story as a sort of “explainer” for the listener/reader–I don’t answer their questions, but lay out all the issues, the context, and what’s at stake, so they can make up their own mind. That said, I am driven by a sense of justice, and drawn to stories that have to do with human rights, or government accountability. I think “Lost in Detention” did a really great job of presenting the issue of increased deportations and detention of immigrants in a deep and balanced way, without being biased.

I graduate at the end of this summer. I am going to stay in school and obtain my Masters in International Relations. However, I would like to know what words of advice you would have for me?

I think it’s really great that you’re pursuing a Masters in International Relations–if you’re still interested in journalism after that, you’ll have more tools at your disposal and enough skills to branch out of journalism and into NGO work or research, if you so choose. I would just encourage you to look for opportunities to challenge your own preconceived notions every step of the way, and to be open to where your studies and interests might take you. And travel a lot and meet new people. Just take it all in–once you’re done with school, you’ll have to focus on finding a job and keeping it, and then advancing your career. You’ll realize how lucky you were to be in school for a couple of years, and have that much available time to think and explore ideas.

Elise Foley, Reporter, The Huffington Post
@elise_foley (twitter)

"The best advice I can give is to write stories as much as you can..."

Elise Foley is a congress and immigration reporter for The Huffington Post. Previously, she worked for the Washington Independent. Foley graduated from Northwestern University in 2010 with a BSJ. While at Northwestern, she was the online Managing Editor for the school newspaper, The Daily Northwestern, for three years.

When did you know you wanted to be a reporter? Was there a defining moment?

I worked on my high school paper, but didn’t realize that I wanted to be a journalist as a career until college. I found that it really brought me out of my shell — I used to be painfully shy — and allowed me to find out about different people and topics. There was no real defining moment; I just realized it was something I could be good at, and then pursued it.

What is a typical day like for you?

I typically wake up and check my email, then scan through Twitter a bit to see if I’ve missed anything. We send out a morning email to tell the reporters and editors what we’re going to do that day, so I look through my Google Reader to see if there are any immigration stories I should follow up on. Then I head into the office and start work on stories. Every day is different in terms of how busy I am, but usually I try to write a story by mid-afternoon. Sometimes stories break — updates in the court case against Alabama’s immigration law, for instance — and I write those up as quickly as possible, after checking with a few sources for context.

How long have you been working the immigration beat? Why did you choose to work the immigration beat?

I’ve been working on the immigration beat for about a year and a half. I actually didn’t choose it; I was assigned by an editor when I started my previous job. I find that it’s easier to work on a specific beat than to do politics reporting in general, because you can develop sources and expertise in the subject.

When you cover stories such as Pedro Guzman’s and the subject describes being treated like an animal, how do you write without bias?

To be honest, with immigration there is some difficulty not showing some bias, because there are so many dog-whistle terms. AP Style says reporters should use the term “illegal immigrant,” but at Huffington Post we use “undocumented” or “unauthorized,” which can come off to readers as showing sympathy to the undocumented populations. I think the best way to combat this is making sure I include other opinions, for instance reaching out to ICE or private prison companies when I write about them. In general, though, I think it’s okay to treat people as human and sympathetic, because they are treated otherwise by the system and many people. I consider that the truth, and think it’s appropriate to have my stories reflect that.

I graduate this summer. What advice do you have for me?

Congratulations on your upcoming graduation! The best advice I can give is to write stories as much as you can, and to try to develop expertise in a few different areas. It can be somewhat limiting to look for jobs as, say, an immigration reporter specifically, but it’s good to be able to tell employers that you can learn and develop a beat. I also find that the more you write stories and talk to people, the easier it gets. The third piece of advice I’d give is to follow other reporters and read their stories, particularly if it’s on a topic you’d like to write about. When I write stories on a given piece of news, I sometimes read the way other reporters afterward, to see if there are things I missed or perspectives I could have included. I find that helps me to improve for future stories.

About Barbara Bellinger

Journalism major and Spanish minor at University of Oregon
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