by John Lievonen
Entering her final semester at Stanford University, Fiona Kelliher walked into her first and last journalism class undaunted like she has for much of her life.
For the soon to be graduate from Minneapolis, a 2018 summer internship at the San Francisco Business Journal is the result of real-world reporting experience and academic research.
“She has the ability to see beyond the material in front of her and see the big picture,” said Michael Rosenfeld, professor of sociology at Stanford University. The two have worked together closely on academic research including interviewing subjects on their use of Tinder and the social networking app aimed at the LGBT community, Grindr.
The parallels between sociology and journalism were not lost on Kelliher. She said one of her most rewarding stories examined the life of the middle class in Palo Alto, one of the country’s most expensive cities due to the surrounding tech boom of Silicon Valley.
Combining data and over 50 interviews, Kelliher’s analysis of the issue for the Palo Alto Weekly led the article to be quoted in Business Insider in February 2018.
“I was absolutely surprised when I got contacted by people who were not living here,” she said.
Although Kelliher, 22, said she always has been passionate about learning, being in the Bay Area has been a dramatic change from Minnesota.
Growing up with an older sister, mom, dad and Labrador retriever named Starry, after the Vincent van Gogh painting “Starry Night,” she originally set her sights on music school, following a decade of playing the flute, but settled on studying sociology while occasionally performing recitals.
“I have always been interested in writing too,” she said. “I have always been interested in a lot of different things and that is why journalism is attractive because you get to try on different hats.”
But before Kelliher would venture full-time into journalism she worked at an anti-sexual assault coalition and was a U.S. Senate press intern for Al Franken while studying sociology. She added that Stanford does not offer an undergraduate journalism program.
“At one point I realized this is interesting and meaningful work, but I really want to be the person writing stories about these things rather than the person working with them,” Kelliher said.
From then on, she combined her area of study and enthusiasm of writing to continue working for her school paper, The Stanford Daily, as well as the local newspaper Palo Alto Weekly. In January 2018, she began an editorial internship with the San Francisco Magazine.
Rosenfeld said that she has been able to make a connection between sociology and journalism by using the theoretical approach of a textbook to find and elaborate on issues such as the Palo Alto middle-class dilemma.
Moving forward, Kelliher said she is keeping her options open in the world of journalism and is not limiting it strictly to writing.
“It depends on which route I end up taking in terms of print or radio or exploring TV.” She said. “But, at the end of 10 years, I definitely want to have done international reporting.”
For her upcoming business reporting internship, Kelliher admitted she first applied to be a data journalism intern before switching to the business reporting track and working with the San Francisco Business Times.
Because she has no formal business reporting training, Kelliher said she is eager for her pre-internship residency in New York.
Rosenfeld, who called Kelliher one of the most impressive undergraduates he has ever taught, said he has no doubt that she will excel.
“She is three steps ahead,” Rosenfeld said. “Usually the smart students are happy to understand what is in front of them, so she is ahead of that.”