This award-winning student journalist has some advice for aspiring reporters

Art by Gianne Encarnacion

 

It’s not a stretch to say that journalism is in a very dark place right now. With threats towards the media in all corners of the world and the advent of fake news, it’s difficult to keep optimistic about its future. It seems like no matter how dedicated you are to telling the truth, there will always be people who will choose to believe fallacies and bold claims by people who have zero credibility (and yes, some of them do come from high places). 

Despite the grim future, there are still those who choose to look for the light switch and pursue the career. One of them is 22-year-old Katrina Alonso, a fresh grad from Pace University in New York.Growing up, Katrina’s teachers described her as inquisitive. Her boundless curiosity led her to readand write stories even after school.You see, she’s a bit of an overachiever and we mean that in the best way possible. Case in point: her grades and SAT scores were high enough to get into UP Diliman and Ateneo. She was also accepted into both NYU and Pace University, but the latter won her over with scholarships and automatic entrance into their honors college.

College proved to be the perfect training ground for Katrina to flex her writing skills. “I wanted to make the most out of my New York education,” she shares. “I pushed myself to take on internships every semester, work for the school newspaper, run a radio show with Pace’s online radio station, and balance my honors coursework on top of it.” It didn’t come without sacrifices, though. Hours of sleep were forfeited and parties and dates were missed out on, but it was all part of the hustle and it definitely paid off. (Um, hello Booksmart?)Aside from landing internships at Out and Interview magazine, and cable news channel CNBC to name a few, she also received multiple journalism awards throughout her college career. Just last month, she graduated summa cum laude and was given the Trustees Award, which is awarded to the undergraduate student with the highest academic and extracurricular achievements. 

“If I didn’t know then that I was destined to be a journalist, I definitely do now,”she says. We got to chat over email about how to make the most of the college experience, why she decided to pursue journalism, and the most memorable story she has covered to date.

Katrina during her graduation at Pace University
Katrina at the lobby of the NASDAQ after covering an event for CNBC.

YOUNG STAR: Did anything memorable or impactful happen in university that inspired you to hustle as a journalist?

KATRINA ALONSO: During (one) school year, a sexual assault scandal (occurred) on campus. At the time, I was the executive editor of the Pace Press, and I handled the coverage. I found out about it through a Facebook post that went viral throughout the Pace community written by the victim. She’d started to organize a school-wide walkout to protest how the university’s administration handled her case, as well as that of many others. I went to the walkout, recording sound clips from the speakers at the protest and interviewing members of the crowd on why they were there. That’s where I met the victim in person and arranged an interview with her in private. This piece was particularly overwhelming to write, so I sought the guidance of the Pace Press adviser, and she helped me build the story. 

Self-care is definitely important to practice, especially since journalists have to cover really difficult and emotionally heavy stories. In my case, the most I felt I could do was give myself some distance from my duties on the paper after these two stories were published. I took a day to stay out of the news cycle and focus on things I knew I could handle, like doing school work and spending time with friends to distract me. In general, journalists do have to maintain emotional distance between themselves and the stories they cover, because it’s the nature of the job. However, I also believe it takes a strong soul to do the work that journalists have to do, and I think that having gone through these experiences has both made me a stronger person and a better journalist.It was during the coverage of the sexual assault scandal, in particular, that I knew I wanted to be a journalist after graduation.

Onward and upward: Katrina (third from left) with the Pace Press staff after winning a journalism award at the Associate Collegiate Press journalism conference in La Jolia, California.

Do you see yourself coming back to the Philippines and being a journalist here?

Philippines and being a journalist here? I have considered coming home and working as a journalist there, but I don’t think it could happen anytime soon. Financially, I have to earn in dollars to pay off my student loans on time. I’d also like to have time to cultivate my career as a journalist in New York before I move on to different markets. But my ties to the Philippines still feel very strong, and maybe one day I’ll go home and make a name for myself there, but that time hasn’t come for me yet. In general, I think Filipinos who study and live abroad all share a common goal: we all want to make the world a kinder place and help ourselves and our fellow Filipinos shine in times of darkness.

 

Once you’ve decided to let your fear fuel you, my advice is to then seek out opportunity, because opportunity won’t find you on its own.

 

It’s usually so scary for students to actually go out into the “real world” and work. What’s your advice for them?

To those students who are scared or nervous about the real world, I say, you’re not alone. Everyone else is going through the same growing pains as you are, but the difference between you and everyone else is that you can choose to let your fear delay your success, or you can choose to let it fuel you. Everything is scary before you try it because you don’t know what to expect; you don’t know what kind of responsibilities will be asked of you, you don’t know how to react to situations you’ve never been in before. It’s like all your life, you’ve been running on the same script for the same role — student — and suddenly you’re something else. But that’s what it means to grow. It means taking on new things, trying on new roles and labels and finding ones that fit. Yes, it’s scary, but you can find comfort in the fact that your parents and mentors have done it before you, your friends are doing it with you, and the younger people in your life will continue to do it after you. You are part of a long heritage of people who have stepped out of their respective comfort zones and achieved their goals, and so can you. 

Once you’ve decided to let your fear fuel you, my advice is to then seek out opportunity, because opportunity won’t find you on its own. Take control of your life, apply to that job, email that editor or architect or director and set your name apart from the rest. Do the legwork, put 110 percent into everything you do and do it with a smile — and always, always say yes.

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