A year of growth

Gabriela Tumani for News21

The year 2022 feels like one of those experiences that is hard to sum up in one word. It was full of ups and downs, so many disappointments and so many smiles. It really is hard to encapsulate it all in one phrase or feeling.

Right now, as I look back and reflect, one of the biggest words that comes to mind is growth. Growth is often seen as a good thing: growing into a better version of yourself, maturing, learning, becoming. But growth also involves growing up, grief, change, uncomfortable moments, and pain. Growth is an opportunity where you must accept both the positive and negative equally in order to fully embrace it. Perhaps that’s why this the word that comes to mind for me — it is both positive and negative, a lot like 2022.

I’ll be the first to admit that these last few years have been difficult. They have challenged who I thought I was as a person, as well as who I would like to be. I thought I was on a straight and narrow path for college, and the pandemic has taught me that while a nice ideal, it is not physically possible. The path I have taken has had curves and stops, hard lefts and U-turns. But through it all, it hasn’t been all bad. In fact, some things have been pretty great.

I fulfilled a childhood dream of reporting in Arizona, for News21. I made new friends — great friends — for the first time since the beginning of college. I joined my first club in college as a senior. I wrote a science fiction short story — I even submitted to my school’s literary journal. I listened to some amazing people and for a few them, I even had the privilege of writing their stories. I helped some of my friends tell their own stories, in their own words. I took a film criticism class, a screenwriting class, a media analytics class, and I was a teaching assistant to some wonderful freshmen. I applied to my first jobs. I read 34 books. I finished my fiftieth consecutive journal (for reference, I started at age 12 and a half).

There’s a lot more that I did and am just not remembering right now, and some more I want to save just for me. There’s some, too, that was hard. I felt more lost and confused in the last year than I have since I was in middle school. I did a lot that I am not proud of, hurt people, said the wrong thing. There were experiences I missed out on because I was too scared to try. There are moments I did not fully appreciate, things I regret.

But what I want to remember — what I choose to remember — is that bad or good, this year helped me grow into the person I am today. The person who woke up at 5:30 a.m. with her dog, decided to stay awake and read, and is now sitting, writing, and drinking a cup of tea, all while the sun rises on a brand new day.

Dear Elon

It is just over two weeks since I graduated from Magna Cum Laude Elon University with a Bachelors of Arts degree in journalism and business administration. In the time since I graduated, I celebrated with friends, family and mentors, I moved out of my first adult apartment to spend some time at home, and I am on the job hunt. All the while I find myself reflecting on my college experience and trying to say thank you to everyone who made Elon my home, the place I truly feel I bELONg.

Dear Elon,

It was among the brick buildings and pathways, inside the newsroom and Oak House, and during retreats, breaking news, and endless late nights that I began to call Elon University home, and I could not be more grateful for such a wonderful place to have grown up.

I discovered Elon during my junior year of high school, purely by accident. I was at a high school journalism conference and saw the table and three people who, incidentally, would make Elon feel like home going forward. I toured campus, sat in on classes and even helped with midterm election coverage, and it really only took my first visit; I knew I found the university for me.

Fast forward to freshman year, I found friends and my footing in the Elon University Communications Fellows program and Elon News Network, I started taking on leadership opportunities and getting involved with campus ministry, and then… a pandemic hit. The world changed overnight and while I dealt with the changes personally, I also was busy writing about the impacts on the university and world as a whole. Being a student journalist during the pandemic took writing to process outside events to a whole new level.

When we came back to campus, I like many other college students had my doubts. I was not sure I would be able to learn in hybrid environments, I worried about the impact the pandemic had on my friendships and I feared we would all be sent home again. While it was challenging, we all made it, and at the end of my sophomore year I stepped into a position I dreamed of taking on: I became Executive Director of Elon News Network.

Throughout my tenure as Executive Director, I faced many challenges, from learning how to lead during a pandemic to running a news website that not only the university read, but the surrounding country relied on. The experience is not one I would trade for the world. I led alongside the most talented, hardworking individuals whom I am lucky not only call peers and colleagues, but friends.

I decided to take on Executive Director for a second year in a row, with a new job description along with it, and once the school year ended I was off to take part in the Carnegie-Knight News21 Fellowship in Phoenix, Arizona. My summer with News21 is still one of the best journalistic experiences of my career. There I was able to travel, report in the field and tell a national story of transparency within policing.

Coming back to Elon, I entered my senior year with equal parts excitement and nervousness. I took on a larger role within Elon Catholic Campus Ministry, becoming a student leader for one of the larger retreats and joining the choir. I continued my work as Executive Director and worked on sharpening my feature storytelling skills as well as my data journalism skills, in and outside of the classroom. By the time spring rolled around, I was working on my last Elon learning requirement by volunteering at Allied Churches of Alamance County, applying to jobs and trying to savor the last few weeks in my favorite place.

Throughout the past four years, I met amazing friends who turned into family. I made fantastic mentoring relationships. I researched, wrote, took photos and video, edited, designed, created, and coded. I challenged myself through minoring in business and taking many classes in creative writing, both fields outside of my typical journalism classes. Through it all, Elon University has been a place where I am able to try new things, make mistakes and always get right back up to try again.

So, Elon. This is not a goodbye letter. I will come back to visit and walk through the brick buildings and the newsroom, get coffee at Oak House and attend mass at Numen Lumen, and see my friends turned family and professors turned mentors. This is a thank you.

Thank you for endless late nights in the newsroom with my closest friends.

Thank you for retreats filled with hope and promise with people I now call family.

Thank you for all of the challenges, the heartbreaks, the blood sweat and tears.

Thank you for the moments of triumph, joy and laughter.

Thank you.

And long live Elon.


Elon University Alumna, Kyra O’Connor ’23

Week two in review

Two weeks into my time in Arizona and I already can tell: I definitely like it here. 

The 2022 Carnegie-Knight News21 Fellows cohort.

Right now, we are in the pre-reporting and research phase of our ten week project. I spend most of my days in “Bureau North,” reading about transparency and accountability within policing, speaking with experts and collaborating with my teammates. I love speaking with experts: from journalists and academics to lawyers and legislators, every person we have spoken to brings more to our project than we ever thought possible. 

This week, I have utilized the pomodoro technique, and noticed a significant change in my productivity at work each day. The pomodoro technique involves completely focused work for a certain amount of time (my favorites are 30 minutes and 50 minutes), followed by a break in which the user is recommended to do something mindfully. Many of the videos I utilize have a person studying in them, giving the semblance of someone else working alongside you, and have instrumentals in the background, for maximized productivity. This technique has really helped me stay focused and, as an added bonus, allows me to track how efficiently I am working each day. I track my productivity on a Google Spreadsheet, where I write out the task I am working on, the time it took to complete it and the next steps I need to take following the completion of the task. 

I have also been endeavoring into a healthier lifestyle while here in Arizona. The extra water intake necessary to be here reminded me of how important it is to take stock of what I’m eating, how much sleep I am getting and my exercise. As with anything else, establishing new goals and rituals takes time. But with each day, I am feeling more grounded in this healthier lifestyle, and see the benefits. 

Check back next week to hear more about my Arizona adventure!

Reflecting on my first week in Phoenix

Today marks the end of my first week in Phoenix, Arizona, working as a News21 Fellow. 

And even as I typed that, I could hardly believe it.

My first day as a News21 Fellow, May 31, 2022.

I am a News21 Fellow at the Arizona State University Walter Cronkite School of Journalism. This summer, I will spend ten weeks working with journalists from across the country covering policing reform in America. I have been dreaming of this program since I was in high school and now that I am finally here, it still feels far too incredible to be real. 

I arrived in Arizona last week and spent the next five days traveling with my family. We camped in the Grand Canyon, a personal bucket list item of mine, and saw Sedona, Arizona, before heading back to Phoenix, where the fellowship is based. I moved into my dorm, said goodbye to my family and barely slept the night before my first day as a fellow.

A shot of the Grand Canyon as seen during my trip.

I struggle to pick just one part of this experience so far that is my favorite. All of it is incredible so far, from exploring a new place to working on a project that will hopefully help people across the nation. But at the end of the day, my favorite part has to be the people. 

Imagine going to summer camp as a kid. You can barely sleep the night before, you’re so excited. With your bags all packed, your parents cart you off to a camp somewhere in the woods. Once you get there, you hug them tightly goodbye and promise you’ll write over the next two months. Then, your stomach full of butterflies, you walk into your cabin and try to make new friends. You discover that nearly all of the kids at camp are like you: nervous, excited and happy to be there. 

That’s what it feels like being in News21. Being surrounded by passionate student journalists is a gift I have been lucky enough to have both in Phoenix and at Elon News Network, but let me tell you: the fantastic feeling that comes with being part of a community of hardworking individuals? It never gets old.

As I met new people, I am also learning a ton of new things: from the fact that you can never drink enough water in Phoenix to learning all about where my co-workers and newfound friends are from.

But most of all, I am learning a lot about myself. In just one short week here, I have proved to myself that I have a capacity to grow, change and become that is far larger than I ever thought. I think seventeen-year-old me would be very proud of how far I have come.

As the end of my first week comes to a close, I am reveling in the joy it has brought me and taking solace in the new week ahead. 

Check back to my blog for Saturday updates throughout the summer. 

Covering Trauma: Being the not-so-typical first responder

We focused on column writing the last few class periods of this semester. While I have never written a column, the process felt cathartic. It was a structured version of the writing I often do for myself, which is often narrative, poetry and creative work in one of over 40 filled notebooks. Our assignment was to write a column about the end of the semester, and I was drawn to writing about my experiences doing breaking news reporting this year.

A photo I took at the March to the Polls event, Oct. 31, 2020.

I remember it clearly. I was standing in the middle of the road, taking pictures of a mass of people kneeling for nine minutes in honor of George Floyd, a Black man who was murdered by a police officer just six months prior. I vaguely heard one shout to disperse. I barely saw the police officer who yelled. But I felt the pepper spray hit my throat.

I was one of many on October 31, 2020 in downtown Graham. Hundreds of people came to a march to the polls event that day, starting in a church parking lot and ending up at the Confederate monument, in front of the Alamance County courthouse. A handful of reporters stood by, cameras ready, to document someone’s first time voting, or maybe catch a glimpse of a proud citizen exercising their right to vote in the tumultuous election. 

But that day, like many others in 2020, journalists instead were witness to violence and brutality. In journalism classes, professors often remind you that journalism is the first draft of history, and on October 31, we really were. From documenting protests and the ongoing impacts of the pandemic to writing about school shootings and a 24/7 government, journalists have been stretched to their limits trying to keep up in a fast paced and often dangerous world.

While only 50 journalists were killed worldwide in the year 2020 according to Reporters Without Borders, a decrease from an all time high of 147 in 2012, the number of journalists killed has been steady since 2019, and the amount of trust people have in media has only increased by 2% since 2019, according to Edelman. 

The impact of the traumatic events journalists cover are akin to the experience first responders have, and that is not a coincidence. Journalists often arrive with police, firefighters and medical workers when they show up on the scene. Tammy McCoy, a former journalist who now works as a clinical psychologist providing counseling to first responders, sees the toll covering traumatic event after traumatic event takes on journalists, particularly journalists of color.

“Hearing about or bearing witness to other people’s trauma can be traumatic or stressful, and creates problems for the journalist,” McCoy said. “If you’re not taking good care of yourself, and all you’re doing is working, you’re really not doing a good job of tending to your own wellbeing. You’re making yourself vulnerable to all the after effects, and that’s not healthy.”

Post traumatic stress disorder for some is a side effect of something they had no control over, a situation they did not choose to be in or had no decision regarding. But for journalists in the field, the decision is entirely our own. We choose each and every day to continue to put ourselves in harm’s way. Sitting with this decision is difficult, knowing that the nights I toss and turn and wake up drenched in sweat from a nightmare are from choices I purposely made.

Since October, I have covered countless protests and demonstrations in Graham. I always say to myself, “this will be the last time. I won’t go back after this.” But each time something happens, I am there, with a camera, a pencil and a sick feeling in my gut. I can’t even listen to the recording from that day any more. I hear myself say “oh my God” in a horrified, shocked voice and the feelings I had then flood my body. I remember thinking that I didn’t call my parents that day. I texted my best friend “pepper sprayed,” before calling and asking him to come down to the courthouse, just in case.

But I keep coming back. All of us do. Call it crazy or a moral obligation, but we keep coming back to protests and covering the death toll of the pandemic. We keep telling stories because, in all honesty, there is nothing else we can do. But the events of the last year have made it clear: in order to continue reporting on traumatic, dangerous events and providing a valuable service to our communities, we need to realize the challenge in such a responsibility. 

As vaccines become more available, a lack of data could curb hope

To see my thoughts on this piece, check out my reflection post here: Writing about vaccines proves a service to community and to self – Kyra O’Connor (kyraoconnor.com)

Photo by Clare Grant | Elon News Network
An Alamance County Health Department worker fills a syringe with the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine on Monday, Jan. 18 at The Career and Technical Education Center in Burlington, North Carolina. The health department administers both Moderna and Pfizer vaccine on different days depending on supplies.

One year after the COVID-19 pandemic started, vaccine efforts are bringing hope to university and town community members alike in Elon, North Carolina. But the lack of data on vaccination and case trends may become an obstacle in lifting restrictions and mandates.

Just three months after Alderwoman Emily Sharpe contracted COVID-19, she went with her mother to get her first dose of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine. Sharpe was vaccinated in Alamance County, something she and those around her have been since the vaccinations became available.

“The day after my birthday, so last week, my mom and I went and got it together,” Sharpe said. 

For Sharpe, getting the vaccine was about more than protecting herself or others. As an elected official and someone who is not high risk, a vaccination allowed her to make those around her more comfortable

“It’s important that if someone had hesitancy in our town or in our personal lives, that they felt more comfortable when they were able to see more healthy people and younger people who are at less risk getting it and not having any issues,” Sharpe said. 

Sharpe is one of over 1,000,000 people partially vaccinated in the state of North Carolina, as of March 12. Alamance County is currently vaccinating people in groups one through three, which includes healthcare workers, long-term care staff and residents, adults 65 and older, and essential workers, like Elon University student workers.

The County vaccination data, available through the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services, shows that at least 30,000 people have been partially vaccinated in Alamance as of March 14. But there is no data specifically for the town of Elon, nor for the university population or Twin Lakes, two large communities within the town with many eligible community members. 

Elon Town Manager Rich Roedner said that because of the lack of data available at the town level, his recommendations to the mayor and for town restrictions and actions will be based on state and county vaccination rates.

“It does make it harder because we don’t have the ability to say that x percentage of Elon residents are now vaccinated or been sick,” Roedner said.  

Students, faculty and staff at Elon University do not have to adhere to town restrictions, members of the town community have been under the same emergency order since the beginning of the pandemic. The town of Elon did not increase mass gathering limits in accordance with Gov. Roy Cooper’s executive order on Feb. 24. that eased restrictions on gathering limits both indoors and outdoors and lifted the statewide 10 p.m. curfew. The town of Elon has kept both restrictions in place. 

Alderman Monti Allison asked board members at their regular meeting March 9 to discuss when the town would consider altering its mass gathering limits. He said residents have expressed concerns to him. 

“We don’t know what the future holds,” Allison said. “We know that each day that we restrict our residents, it’s not fair to them, particularly when the entire state is taking a different approach.”  Good one.

Roedner said his recommendation to the mayor to keep the mass gathering limits the same stems from the makeup of the Elon community, which is not like “other North Carolina towns.” Because faculty, staff and students travel differently than regular residents and may be vaccinated outside of North Carolina, the county data or local data could be only partially correct. 

 “They’re here, they’re interacting everybody else, but they don’t live here, so I have no way of knowing if they’re vaccinated,” Roedner said.

Writing about home is complicated, reporter says

One of my favorite classes of the semester was hearing from Pulitzer Center reporters Jenna Kunze and Alice Qannik Glenn. All I want to do with my life is write stories like they do, stories that really touch people’s lives and educate people on things they might not have known about otherwise. Listening to the complexities and nuance in their reporting was incredible. For my assignment after they visited class, I chose to focus on the challenge Qannik Glenn faced writing about her home, as well as the most interesting new information I learned about Alaska.

Coffee &Quaq podcast host Alice Qannik Glenn overlooks the frozen Arctic Ocean in February. Image by Jenna Kunze. United States, 2020.

Jenna Kunze and Alice Qannik Glenn explained their reporting process and the challenges they faced writing about underrepresented communities to a journalism class on Friday and led a discussion on media coverage of the North Slope of Alaska.

The pair worked together to produce “Alaska Natives on the Frontlines,” a reporting series funded by the non-profit Pulitzer Center that promotes underrepresented indigenous voices and seeks to address climate change from a native lens.

Kunze and Qannick Glenn reported as two of 16 journalists granted funding as part of the center’s Connected Coastlines initiative. The nationwide project documents the impacts of weather patterns on coastlines, including in Hawaii and Alaska, from where Kunze and Qannick Glenn reported.

For Kunze, preparing to write about Alaska was much like any other assignment. The Pulitzer Center grantee traveled abroad after graduating Marist College in 2016. Upon returning to the states, Kunze settled in Alaska as a way to continue to challenge herself as a reporter and found a job at a local paper.

Kunze said she prepared by reading beforehand, connecting with community members while she was in Alaska and relying on her reporting partner, Qannik Glenn, who she said she could not have done any of her reporting without.

 “The idea that she was willing to trust me and let me into her home and introduce me to these different people so then they in turn trusted me… What she’s saying about a lack of trust in journalism, I felt palpably.”

But for Qannik Glenn, reporting on Alaska meant reporting on the place she grew up. Qannik Glenn is Iñupiaq born and was raised in Utqiaġvik, Alaska. After going to Florida to pursue her bachelor’s degree in aerospace studies from Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, Qannik Glenn moved back to Anchorage and started a podcast called “Coffee and Quak,” which is how she connected with Kunze.

“Coffee and Quak,” celebrates and dives into the lives of Native people in Alaska. The stories she brings to listeners on her podcast are the same narratives she explored with Kunze, and are the issues from her own community.

“I moved back to Alaska, here to Anchorage and was just so inspired by people and place and connection and culture … but then also a little bit disappointed about the representation of Alaska native media,” Qannik Glenn said. “To come home to my home state and still see a lack of representation in media kind of bugged me, so I decided to start my own podcast.”

As a Native woman, Qannik Glenn said she wanted to ensure that the storytelling she and Kunze worked on was representative of her community, and those around her.

“We need to be really careful with this because there’s a history of exploitation of our Native communities,” Qannik Glenn said. “It was a little nerve racking for me because I want to represent myself in my community as best as I can, and in order to do that I felt like I had to do it a certain way.”

One example Qannik Glenn gave was the media coverage of a young man who was whaling and caught a whale that fed his entire community. While whaling is a legal practice in Alaska, media coverage of the event in the lower 48 states focused on the “barbaric” and “disgusting” nature of the story, Qannik Glenn explained to students.

While covering the impacts of climate change on Alaska, Kunze said she had to address her own misconceptions about Alaskan people. Similar to the lower 48 states viewing whaling differently than Native people in Alaska, Kunze said she previously thought Alaskan people would advocate against drilling for oil, or other acts that could contribute to global warming. But for many, including Qannik Glenn, oil extraction afforded people opportunities and funds many Alaskan industries.

“I interviewed the mayor … and he’s like we’re not into renewable energy, but until someone else comes up with an idea for renewable energy and introduces it to our community and it works, who are you in the lower 48, who drives cars and use cell phones with these resources that we extract from our land, to say that we shouldn’t extract them?”

Writing about vaccines proves a service to community and to self

Through class assignments I was able to dig into many angles of the vaccine rollout process

Photo by Clare Grant | Elon News Network
An Alamance County Health Department worker fills a syringe with the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine on Monday, Jan. 18 at The Career and Technical Education Center in Burlington, North Carolina. The health department administers both Moderna and Pfizer vaccine on different days depending on supplies.

If you had asked me a year ago what I would be writing about during my sophomore year of college, I would not have said vaccines. No one saw this past year coming, and it has changed our world in many ways, but I think one of the ways that fascinates me the most is how the COVID-19 pandemic changed storytelling.

For numerous Elon News Network and class assignments, I have been tasked with writing about the vaccine rollout process. From the emergency authorization made by the Food and Drug Association of some version of the vaccine to the arrival of the first doses North Carolina received to now, how students, faculty and staff are getting the vaccine, there is no shortage of angles and stories to cover when it comes to the potential end to the pandemic.

My favorite angle of the vaccine story I have written about is looking at the challenges facing small communities, such as the Town of Elon, who have no way of tracking vaccine rollout in their area. In the state of North Carolina, one can track the vaccine rollout through the health department. In Alamance County, there is also a relative count to how many people have received the vaccine. While both systems are tentative and bound to have mistakes or miscounts, the data is invaluable even when incomplete to illustrate the percentage of the population who have received the vaccine, who are eligible to receive the vaccine, and who is still waiting. 

But for small towns without their own sets of data, there is no way to know how vaccine rollout is going. While this may not seem like a problem, for communities like Elon, without knowing the vaccinated population, it is hard for town officials to make important decisions such as how and when to increase the number of residents allowed indoors, or how to reevaluate mask mandates within different settings. 

I love writing about the Town of Elon for many reasons, but with this story, I loved writing about the unique situation our town faces because it is not an obvious challenge. If you don’t spend an abundant amount of time in the surrounding town area, which many Elon University community members do not, the challenges presented by a lack of data may never even occur to you. I know before I spoke with town officials, that was not a challenge I knew existed. It was only by reporting and really listening did I find out about this issue.

To keep up with coverage of the vaccine rollout, the pandemic, and more, click here to see my latest stories.

Reflecting on the halfway point…

This semester seems simultaneously like the longest and most fast-paced semester of college yet. As a sophomore in my second semester, this is not just the halfway point of the spring semester itself, but of my collegiate career, as well. 

Typing these words feels surreal, as I remember a time last year where I could barely imagine next week, let along the next year. Two years ago, I could not fathom what college would feel like, and I had trouble imagining myself seven and a half hours away from home. This moment felt so far away back then, and now that I’m here, I want to pause and reflect on the past two years, and this whirlwind semester.

In the past two years, I wasted no time diving into Elon News Network. I carved a space out in the newsroom for myself, working hard and growing as a reporter and a person. I made some of the best friends and relationships I could ask for in the newsroom. I have won awards, taken on leadership roles and can honestly say that my work makes a difference in the community. 

The day I got my press pass for Elon News Network. | Photo by Hannah Massen, Elon News network

I learned some hard lessons in the newsroom, as well. I faced a lot of burnout writing through the pandemic. Constantly being exposed to the deep hardships of humanity takes a toll, and for a long time, I refused to acknowledge the pain my passion brought me. I worked to balance school and reporting, reporting and a social life, and I didn’t always succeed. There were many nights I wondered if I could sustain my current trajectory, or when it would all fall apart.

With time, however, I found solace in my growth as a person and a journalist. I sought out feedback personally and professionally, I worked on finding ways to balance my commitments that worked for me and I let go of relationships, habits and work that no longer served me as an individual. While it was hard to put in the work needed to get myself on track, I saw the difference it made in my overall quality of life — that was reason enough to continue. 

In my classes, I had to get used to asking for help. I did not often ask for help in high school and would spend hours studying, working and problem solving on my own to succeed. In college and as a student journalist, I realized my high school habits would no longer help me. Now, in my sophomore spring semester, I am proud of the adaptations I made. I am proud of the effort I put into my classes. I am also proud of my recovering perfectionist techniques — sometimes, your best is all you have. 

Some of my friends who make walking through life easier. | Photo by Otis Curling.

This semester I focused on doing things that worked for me. While it seems like an obvious goal, I often fall into the trap of doing things that work for others and wondering why they don’t have the same result for me. From comparing my grades to my friends and peers to reading countless articles on productivity, I fall victim to attempting to mold my life into what looks like success, rather than working on my own definition of success and working toward that. I began tracking my homework assignments differently. I found that scheduling in meals, self-care and healthy habits is the bet way to hold myself accountable and to stay on track. All of these little moments of self-discovery really added up in the long run, allowing me to feel and see my efforts paying off in the long-run. 

I’m at the halfway point. A lot of things in my life are about to change. As a planner, I have mixed emotions when it comes to change. Change means adapting, re-planning and getting settled in a new way of life. But what I’ve learned, especially while living in a pandemic for the last year, is that change is not inherently good or bad. Adapting can lead to a better version of myself. Changing the plan can reveal new goals and things I want that I never would have considered. Settling in again leaves room to grow, get rid of things that no longer serve me and continue on this journey of becoming myself. 

As cheesy as all of this sounds, I truly believe that my outlook on change is changing my life. I lean into all of the hippie dippy fate and manifesting ideas. I think how you react to a situation makes or breaks what happens next. And I believe that at this halfway point, I am standing on the brink of possibility. 

A great reminder

Bryan Anderson, Elon alumnus and reporter for the Associated Press, visited our class and reminded me why I started in journalism in the first place

One of the incredible assets to come out of the pandemic is the use of Zoom. While video conferencing technology is not new, I am astonished by all we have managed to get out of the technology since COVID-19 required us to interact virtually. By far my favorite use of Zoom is being able to video conference with my family, but a close second is interacting with industry professionals in clubs and the classroom, people who otherwise would have been inaccessible due to time constraints and location. 

During one of our Reporting for the Public Good classes, we met with Bryan Anderson. Anderson is an Elon alumnus who now works with the Associated Press in North Carolina. As he talked with us, I was most interested in his stories from the field. From covering weather devastation to the Department of Motor Vehicles, I loved how Anderson always found his story by focusing on the people. He could have written about the policies at the DMV, or the level of intensity of the storm, but instead he wrote about the people waiting in line, and the people who hid in their bathroom, waiting for the storm to pass.

Bryan Anderson, Elon alumnus, visited JOU 310 to discuss his work with Report for America. | Photo courtesy of Report for America

When I started in journalism, I was thirteen years old. I wrote about the playground in my neighborhood that was about to be torn down. I spoke with parents, kids, a man who helped build the playground 13 years ago, and the class designing the new playground. I remember sitting on a bench next to the man who had helped build the original one. He told me stories about his children playing on the big wooden structure, the splinters they got and the lessons they learned bounding across the mulch chips playing tag, or hide and seek. I could have written about how much the new playground was going to cost, or the policy that made the old one obsolete, but as a 13 year old, I cared about the people, not the procedure. 

Listening to Anderson, I was reminded of that childlike joy I feel after a great interview. The buzz of excitement when you write out a great quote. Writing about people will always be my why in journalism, and Anderson’s talk in class served as a great reminder of that. To view more of Anderson’s work, click here.