by Maximiliano Reyes
Ashley Garrett has been busy the last few years.
The 21-year-old just graduated from the University of Central Florida, where she majored in print and digital journalism and minored in Africana studies. While in school, she juggled academics with extracurriculars including internships at local NPR and CBS affiliates and positions at college publications.
Despite the long list of bylines and responsibilities, she has no trouble pinpointing one of the stories she’s most proud of: an article about Puerto Rican students at her college dealing with the aftermath of Hurricane Maria that she wrote for student-run news outlet Nicholson Student Media Today.
Garrett wrote the story a little under two years ago, when she was covering minorities, religion, and the LGBT community for the publication. Garrett said she picked the beat for herself, and that telling the stories of marginalized people has always been important to her.
“I would like to say I’m a person who’s very sensitive to other people’s feelings and experiences, and I think that’s kind of what drives me as a journalist,” she said. “I want to tell people’s stories. I want to give them a voice when they don’t have one.”
Garrett said she’s covered other difficult topics, including race and sexual violence on college campuses. And living in Florida has brought her into close proximity to a number of tragedies that have been felt nationwide.
The summer after she started going to school in Orlando, the city was rocked by the Pulse Nightclub shooting, which left dozens dead and dozens more injured. Garrett currently lives in Orlando.
Less than two years later, Garrett’s hometown of Parkland, Fla. saw a mass shooting that killed 17 people and sparked a national conversation about gun safety.
Garrett said coming into contact with such difficult topics has taught her about empathy and how to approach tragedies as a reporter.
“That’s definitely… impacted me as a journalist,” she said.
Rick Brunson, one of Garrett’s former professors, said that compassionate approach to journalism lines up with what he’s seen of her.
“I’ve never heard anybody say one negative thing about Ashley, honestly,” he said. “She’s well respected. There’s a lot of affection for her. And I think it’s because she’s genuinely, authentically, just a caring person with a lot of empathy.”
Brunson also identified Garrett as a skilled editor and fact checker, describing how she once alerted him to the fact that a source had possibly misled two reporters working on a story for a campus publication. Brunson was later able to confirm that the source had been lying. Thanks to Garrett’s intervention, the story never ran.
”The reporters writing the story didn’t even think to question any of [what the source claimed], but Ashley did,” he said.
Brunson, a former Dow Jones News Fund proctor and trainer, was actually the one who encouraged Garrett to apply for the internship program in the first place.
Garrett said she had little experience with business reporting, but worked hard to prepare herself for the exam.
“I studied, I took the test, applied, and let go,” she said, noting she had spent much of college forcing herself outside of her comfort zone and getting used to the idea of rejection.
Even so, Garrett said she was surprised when she got a call informing her she would be spending her summer as a business reporter at the Orlando Business Journal after a week-long reporting bootcamp in New York City.
But Brunson wasn’t.
“That’s the way she is,” he said. “She always not only well-prepares herself, but over prepares herself. She’s just a solidly smart, academically disciplined person.”