By James Rodriguez
Ask Mikaela Cannizzo about her journalistic experience, and one can understand if she has a bit of trouble keeping it all straight.
She’s scoured police reports on the crime beat, documented climate change in Australia’s rainforests and spent late nights at the Capitol covering the Texas legislature.
Now, fresh off her junior year at the University of Texas at Austin, Cannizzo is poised to add another experience to her wide-ranging résumé: Dow Jones News Fund intern for the Dallas Business Journal.
Cannizzo, 20, was born in Los Angeles to a pair of actors (she still winces when she recalls one harrowing scene from Leprechaun 4, in which her father’s character is crushed by a cinderblock). She moved to Texas when her father took a job in Frisco, a suburb north of Dallas, the summer before her fifth grade year.
Cannizzo got her start in journalism as a high school senior, when she participated in Frisco ISD’s Independent Study and Mentorship Program.
She connected with Will Pry, an editor at the Dallas Morning News, who guided her through the year as she learned about reporting. By April, she had a freelance byline in the Dallas Morning News.
“She was really well put together, just knowing who she was and what she wanted to accomplish,” Pry said. “She was really attentive and just very self-aware for someone at that age.”
Cannizzo breezed through her first semester at UT, where she majors in journalism with a certificate in Business Foundations. But she said her confidence wavered in the spring, as her classes demanded more projects. One in particular, Digital Storytelling Basics, made her question whether she had the skills and confidence to pursue a journalism career.
“I went in thinking, ‘I did a year of this in high school, I’ve got this,’” Cannizzo said. “That class, it challenged me. I ended up doing well in it, but I think that was the time when I started questioning, ‘Can I really do this?’”
Cannizzo opted to stick with journalism, and in the fall of her sophomore year, she applied for a position on UT’s student newspaper, the Daily Texan. She landed a spot as a general reporter.
“That really gave me the confidence and the affirmation I needed to keep going with it,” Cannizzo said. “It was such a turning point.”
Buoyed by that first semester, Cannizzo returned as a senior writer, covering crime and public safety.
“I was just starting to get the hang of it,” Cannizzo said. “I was producing 4-5 stories a week. And then on a Tuesday morning, an email came out that they had found a body on campus and that it was a possible homicide.”
Cannizzo finished class on April 5, 2016, and opened her phone to a barrage of messages. Among them was the announcement from UT President Gregory Fenves that a body had been found in a creek on the edge of campus. Immediately, Cannizzo rushed to the scene. Police later identified the victim as freshman Haruka Weiser, in the first homicide on campus since the tower shootings in 1966.
“The whole experience was very surreal,” Cannizzo said. “You’re trying to process it as a human being, but it’s also, ‘I’m a reporter, I have to cover this.’”
In the year since, Mikaela has reported on the environment in Australia while studying abroad and worked as the Texan’s legislature reporter. Looking to try her hand at business journalism, she applied for a Dow Jones News Fund internship at the behest of DJNF alumna Cassandra Jaramillo, a friend from the Texan. But Cannizzo said she never expected to get the acceptance call.
“I was pretty overwhelmed,” Cannizzo said. “There are a lot of things to be excited about. This will help me to make a decision about my future.”
Cannizzo no longer lacks confidence in her journalistic abilities. She said she’s ready to join the Dallas Business Journal, where she’s looking forward to covering transportation and real estate in her own backyard.
“With American City Business Journals, they’re reporting for people in the business field,” Cannizzo said. “This is important, and we can be there to provide it. I want to be a part of that.”