You recently had another story published with ProPublica on how Chicago Public Schools monitor students for gang affiliation. Did that story arise out of this one?
I came across that story early in my research and went to Chicago last March to do some reporting on it during Spring Break. My advisor Tracy helped connect me with editors at ProPublica Illinois, and I met with them while I was there. In the same way, they were willing to give me a shot. Both times it was a long road from pitch to publication. I feel like I just wrapped up my work at Columbia!
What are you doing now? How do you think the Times piece impacted your career?
I’ve been working for a few months at Law360 covering courts in Boston. Prior to that, I was doing some freelance research work at ProPublica.
I think the number of people who saw that story and saw I could put together a large project like that has been helpful. Just having the opportunity to put that much time into a single piece is something most journalists don’t get due to time or budget.
What were your biggest lessons from your time as a Stabile student?
I learned to be patient with a story. It’s kind of a gut thing on whether you go all-in on a particular topic or not. I had many moments where I wasn’t feeling confident about my master’s project and what it would be. Being able to look at every angle and dive deep into it paid off.
I also learned what it really takes to publish a good investigation. We had this class in Stabile on bulletproofing our stories—literally going through with a lawyer to make sure your story is airtight and you don’t get sued. An early draft of my story was chosen to be reviewed and the media lawyer in the class just shredded the piece.
There were a lot of statements where the language was kind of vague, which was because my reporting wasn’t quite there. I realized that if you’re using language where you’re not 100 percent sure what it means, you have to do more reporting or cut it because you have to be sure you are correct and specific in your reporting.
Does anything else stand out from your time at the J-School?
I’ve seen so many of my classmates get amazing stories published. It’s a great feeling. Columbia does a great job pitching and supporting students doing this work.
The process of doing the reporting—the grueling work of a long project—was extremely valuable in itself. There’s just so much tedious stuff: triple-checking, telling sources exactly what you’re going to write about them when it doesn’t make them happy, the early stages where you don’t know what the story is going to be…It’s stressful, but worthwhile.
I feel so much solidarity with the students. People from my year at the J-School have been so supportive of each other, even now, after graduation. Even though we’re a year removed, it feels like there’s a lot of solidarity and community.