by Alexandra Garfinkle
Danielle Chemtob, while still in high school, found herself in a prison. She was at San Quentin in California with a reporter from the Marin Independent Journal, where she’d started interning three days before.
The reporter went off to conduct an interview with an inmate, and Chemtob, then 16, was left alone. A man in a prison jumpsuit introduced himself to her – he was holding a camera and Chemtob was curious as to why.
So she asked.
“He told me, ‘I operate our prison news service,’” Chemtob said. “They have a newspaper, a radio show.”
Chemtob told the older reporter who was with her, who also found it interesting; the encounter also propelled a realization for Chemtob, one that she would write her college essays about and that would affect her professional aspirations – that journalism has the power to show us the ways we’re more like each other than different.
“He has the same aspirations as I do,” she said. “He wants to do the same things I do.”
Chemtob, now 21, will intern at The Wall Street Journal this summer; she’s preparing to start a career in journalism upon her graduation from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill this year. In her own words, Chemtob has “always wanted to be a writer” and she’s been exploring journalism as a potential career path since she was young.
“My dad and I watched the evening news together every night from the time I was a baby,” she said. “I was always aware of the news, I always admired the people I saw [on TV].”
Chemtob grew up in Corte Madera, California, a suburb of San Francisco. She and her father watched Diane Sawyer and CBS; Chemtob also attended the same high school as her mother, who’d been the editor-in-chief of the student newspaper there in the 1970s.
Though she’d always expected to attend a school in the University of California system, Chemtob found herself drawn to the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. She’s loaded up on classes – she’s a double major in Journalism and Political Science – so she’s finished up core classes this semester, including a geology course.
She’s worked on The Daily Tar Heel, the student newspaper at UNC; Chemtob has also held internships in Australia and at the Triangle Business Journal and at The News & Observer, both located in Raleigh, NC. This year, she was also the student winner of the SABEW “Best in Business” contest for a piece she reported and wrote on student debt in North Carolina’s HBCUs; it was a cover story for the Triangle Business Journal.
However, she says it’s hard to overemphasize the importance of The Daily Tar Heel in her development as a writer. While at the Tar Heel, she’s most proud of a series she spearheaded devoted to exploring the opioid crisis in North Carolina. She approached an editor, asking to explore the issue. It turned into a multi-part series in which Chemtob and her colleagues explored diverse topics surrounding the opioid crisis, from the ways colleges cope with addicted students to how communities in North Carolina banded together to fight their slice of the opioid epidemic.
“For me, something that I’m really proud of, that we were able to get that series going,” she said.
Journalism educator Chris Roush, who taught Chemtob in two different classes at UNC, also initially recommended her for the internship at the Triangle Business Journal. He says that Chemtob’s “detailed reporting” and ability to connect people and data make her a standout.
“Danielle comes up with story ideas that other students just don’t. She’s innately curious and is good at talking to people,” Roush said.