By Mikaela Cannizzo
Twenty-two-year-old Saundra Wilson did not grow up with an aspiration to be a journalist, but eventually found a passion for telling stories through reporting and writing during her junior year of college after changing her major five times.
Wilson graduated from Arizona State University in May with a Bachelor of Arts in journalism and mass communications. After exploring the fields of elementary education, nursing, social sciences and supply chain management before settling on journalism, Wilson was left with just three semesters and a summer to learn as much as she could about her new career path.
While she wanted to excel as a journalist, she said the gap between her age and experience prompted an initial feeling of inadequacy.
“I just tried to work hard to make that gap smaller,” Wilson said. “I had to make the most of the short time that I had.”
Despite what she said felt like a delayed start, Wilson wasted no time finding opportunities to support her newfound interest in communications.
She spent spring semester of her junior year interning at a marketing and public relations company called Decibel Blue Creative. The following summer she made her journalism debut as a production and reporting intern for CW6 where she was tasked with producing short video segments centered on lifestyle news. Without prior videography or photography experience, Wilson learned how to shoot and edit on the go as she reported on the latest workout trend and interviewed makeup artists about beauty tips.
She continued her pursuit of journalism in the fall of 2016 as a breaking news intern at The Arizona Republic, the largest newspaper in the state. During her time at the Republic, Wilson said she was forced to become a more confident journalist through exposure to situations she found uncomfortable such as knocking on strangers’ doors and talking to police officers.
“I think a lot of being a journalist is being okay with being uncomfortable and asking those hard questions,” Wilson said.
While she regards her breaking news internship as a transformative experience, Wilson found enterprise journalism to be more enticing because it allowed her to be creative and write more diverse stories. While her internship at CW6 peaked her interest in enterprise journalism, she was able to further develop her passion for writing in-depth stories during her final semester at ASU as the consumer and health reporter for Cronkite News, an online and broadcast publication staffed by students and overseen by professionals.
Venita Hawthorne James, director of Cronkite News’s Phoenix bureau, worked closely with Wilson and edited her stories. She said Wilson is exactly the type of student and journalist the news organization looks for and said her persistence in asking about the reasoning behind surface-level ideas in stories she covers keeps her from being a passive reporter.
“Sometimes people don’t want to push themselves beyond their comfort zone and she is willing to do that and try different things,” Hawthorne James said about Wilson.
Born in Sacramento, California, which is considered one of the most diverse cities in the U.S., Wilson said she grew up immersed in various languages and cultures. When she moved to Arizona to attend college, she realized the uniqueness of her multicultural experience. As a reporter, she strives to prioritize cultural inclusivity in her stories to give a voice to diverse communities.
Phoenix, Arizona will continue to be Wilson’s home for the summer as she begins post-graduate life as a Dow Jones News Fund intern at the Phoenix Business Journal. While she is a newcomer to business journalism, she said she hopes to learn about business on a local level and its effects on other sectors of the community. She is also looking forward to spending a week at New York University to complete a pre-internship training program.
Wilson said business reporting was not on the forefront of her mind as a potential career choice a few months ago when she decided to apply for the internship on a whim after attending an information session about it. While the opportunity isn’t one she necessarily expected, Wilson said she is excited to explore a new avenue of journalism and give it her best shot.