People & Places: The Aspiring Journalist

It’s a beautiful Sunday morning and Alin and I are sipping coffee on the balcony when the conversation turns towards her upcoming school year. She is to start her junior year in high school this fall. Just shy of her sixteenth birthday, Alin has already decided on her future career while most of her contemporaries are still focused on how to fill their days with summer fun.

The subject of her passion is journalism, something she began doing at her school newspaper last year as a staff writer. Now, in preparation for next year, she has been given two positions at the same paper: Co-Editor of the front page and the centerfold and Assistant Editor of news.

“I have to start thinking about layout design for the school paper,” she says. “Our front page and center fold layout is the exact same in every issue. The most boring, probably the most simple, layout you can have. And we’re going to have to mix it up,” she says with a mischievous smile.

She’s been thinking of several ideas, mainly focusing on the visual for the time being. “Right now we have a ‘no gutters’ rule,” she begins, already comfortable using the industry lingo. “I am considering letting some gutters happen so that we can be more versatile with our layout.” She explains the reference of the “gutter” as the thin white space between columns.

“You’re job is to collect the news around the school?”

“Yes. And then we have staff writers as well. So if they find a news article, they come to me. I edit, it goes to the editor above me, they edit. Stuff like that,” the seriousness with which she takes her responsibilities and describes the chain of command in place at the publication is a testament to the school’s caliber. The school provides the best resources available and expects nothing less from its students. In turn, students like Alin, strive to give their best and have an opportunity to display their talents.

“Why do you want to be a journalist?”

“It’s something I enjoy,” she says simply. “I enjoy being able to learn about different things that are happening around me. You write it and you share that knowledge with whoever doesn’t have it. I want people to know more about whatever it is I am writing,” she expands, trying to explain the reasons for her passion for the field.  

“Do you have an inspiration or a hero? Somebody that you admire and that’s why you want to do it?” I ask wanting to understand how someone so young has such a clear vision of what stimulate them in their adult life.

“Not really,” she responds. “I kind of stumbled upon it, mostly through school work. It started with creative writing,” she begins telling the progression of her path to her current position at the newspaper. “Then, freshman year, I took an ‘Intro to Journalism’ class and I loved it. Now I’m on the paper,” she says, making it all sound so simple. “Even though everyone is trying their hardest to try and convince me out of it.”

“Why?” I am genuinely surprised by her last statement.

“Well, my brother straight up told me I was an idiot because I’m going to be living out of a cardboard box, apparently,” she says with a tone that makes clear her response to her older brother’s attitude. Eighteen years old and about to start college in the fall, he feels more knowledgeable and qualified to advise his sister. “While he’ll be ‘making millions somewhere else,’” she says quoting him. Not to be outdone, she responds with, “every family needs a good mooch. I’m simply volunteering.” What she means that not every member of a family will become financially successful. Some will trade that kind of success and choose careers that deal with social consciousness, but it is a family’s responsibility to support each other, be it financial or otherwise.

A few weeks ago, her father initiated a conversation with the words “You know Alin, I spoke to my friend, he’s in journalism and apparently journalism is dying. Find something else.”  

“No names. Some ‘friend’ I don’t know, just like that: Find something else,” Alin recounts the exchange. It’s evident that she was taken aback by this exchange. “But I don’t want to. I like what I got,” she says, adamant to stay the course with her chosen field.

Although Alin has gravitated to the news aspect of writing, she still enjoys creative writing. “From time to time someone will ask which I like better and I’ll sit and make a ‘pro’ and ‘con’ list in my head, and I can’t choose between them. Even though they’re both very different, they both have aspects that I enjoy so much.” She has no interest in broadcast news. It’s all about the act of writing. “I really, really enjoy the news type – the investigative reporting. It’s exciting. I don’t really know how to articulate it. It’s something that excites me – in the way that news articles are written in comparison to feature articles or whatever. It makes sense to me. The whole aspect of it works in my head.”

“The fact that newspapers are dying and people get their news does that affect how you feel about it?”

“Not really. As long as I’m writing, it doesn’t matter if it’s in print or online. As long as I’m writing, it doesn’t matter to me where people are reading it. As long as it’s being read.”

“Do you have a back up plan? In case your dad is right?”

“Not really. Journalism is the only thing I’ve narrowed it down to so far. I just know that I want to write and I want to travel. Whatever is encompassed in that I’ll be good with,” Alin says. She goes on to say that overall, he wants her to be happy. “He just doesn’t want me to be dirt poor or struggling. I think that’s what it is. I think one of his fears is that, if I go through this journalism thing, I’m really, really going to be struggling; which, in turn, will probably make me unhappy.”

For right now, journalism and her involvement with the school paper make her happy, but she would not be against exploring other options as they come up, particularly in college. “I’m open to new things. If I find anything I’m more interested in or more passionate, then I’ll just go with that,” she says with a shrug. After all, having options and a wide open future are what sixteen is all about.

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