by Jack Pitcher
When Jessica Matthews first got to King’s College in Manhattan, she thought she wanted to be a fiction writer. She took a journalism class, but wasn’t sold on it. That all changed her junior year.
The 21-year-old from Memphis, Tennessee, was tasked with profiling a fellow student for a narrative non-fiction class, and she decided to shadow a transgender student at King’s College. For the next month, Matthews followed the student, going with her to work and voice lessons and hanging out with her friends. Matthews found the experience eye-opening, learning what it’s like to be a transgender student at a small Christian college.
After writing the story, Matthews knew journalism was what she wanted to do.
“I’ve always been drawn to fiction, and I’ve always written fiction. But what I learned from that process is that the most amazing, craziest stories are the ones happening in real life around you,” Matthews said. “I realized I wanted to get to know real people, learn their stories, and help tell them.”
Since that time, Matthews got involved with King’s College’s independent student newspaper, the Empire State Tribune. During her senior year she served as managing editor and then editor in chief, and her impact on the paper was quickly apparent.
In the first two months of 2018 under Matthew’s leadership, the Empire State Tribune’s readership was 179 percent larger than it had been in all of 2017.
King’s College professor and Empire State Tribune advisor Clemente Lisi said much of this success can be traced to Matthews.
“She works hard. She’s a go-getter,” Lisi said. “She created a hard-working team, which is key. She galvanized people on one mission—to inform the public and student body, report stories out, and not be afraid of controversial topics.”
Not being afraid of controversial topics was one of the keys to the Empire State Tribune’s recent success. Even at an independent newspaper, reporting about the college you attend can be tricky, especially when it’s a private college and the stories aren’t always flattering.
In 2017, King’s College announced that its president would be switching to the role of chancellor as part of a leadership restructuring, and a new president would be appointed. Matthews and other student journalists quickly learned there was more to the story, and the school hadn’t been entirely forthcoming. Despite being chancellor, the old president wasn’t going to have an office at the school, and was taking on a new job at a different college.
The Empire State Tribune reported this information, and according to Matthews, was initially doubted by many students, who called it “fake news.” But several weeks later the old president updated his LinkedIn to reflect his new job at the other school, and the Tribune was proven correct.
Lisi said that there’s sometimes pressure for a student newspaper to act as the marketing-arm for a school, but that isn’t what he teaches students.
“I’ll never advocate for censoring,” Lisi said. “I encourage students to always be looking for stories, good or bad. Let the facts take you there.”
Matthews got hooked on journalism because of the storytelling aspect. But through her experience at the Tribune and an internship at CNBC last fall, she’s become adept at reporting on complex subjects as well.
Matthews graduated from King’s College this month with a business administration degree and will intern at Financial Planning this summer, where she’s excited to put her knowledge from her classes and CNBC internship to use.
“I love the learning aspect of journalism,” Matthews said. “If you want to learn about something, write about it. It forces you to become an expert really quickly.”