By Brianne Ledda
Journalism major Natallie Rocha, 21, has only ever cried once while covering a story.
She’s not an emotional person. She doesn’t cry often. But the student she was writing about had just died. And she’s only human.
Dellon Sanders, a recent graduate from Point Loma Nazarene University (PLNU) in Southern California, died this past October. Rocha, now a rising senior at PLNU, wrote an article about his death for The Point, the university’s newspaper. In the obituary, she doesn’t just investigate how he died. She also tells the story of how he lived.
“She dug into that [story] with the perseverance of a good investigative reporter, but also the compassion of a decent, caring human being,” Dean Nelson, the founder and director of the journalism program at PLNU, said. “One of my definitions of good journalism is journalism that complicates your thinking. And what Natallie did with that story complicated everyone’s thinking.”
Rocha, whose speciality lies in narrative storytelling, likes to joke that she stumbled into journalism. Her friends encouraged her to join their school newspaper, The Lancer Express, when she was a junior in high school. She started as a staff writer and she was promoted to editor-in-chief the following year.
“I feel like it’s sometimes one of those things that people say, oh I’ve wanted to be a reporter since I was a kid,” Rocha said. “I never had that, necessarily, but looking back I always had things along the way, like oh, I always liked picking up the newspaper, or like I always enjoyed writing and telling stories.”
Since she’s graduated high school, Rocha has free-lanced for The Media Project in New York City, Viewpoint Online in San Diego and the U.S. Soccer Federation. Rocha continued writing when she started college at PLNU, this time as a staff writer for The Point. Last fall, she also worked as News Director at Point Radio, her university’s student-run radio station.
Rocha traces her passion for journalism back to a love of the National Public Radio station (NPR). Her dad used to make her listen to the station when he drove her to soccer games on the weekends. It was a 45 minute drive to her games in Irvine from her home in Carlsbad, and the weekly radio show “Wait Wait… Don’t Tell Me!” was always on. She thought it was boring at first, but it didn’t take long for the station to grow on her. Now she hopes to work at NPR one day and humanize stories like Sanders’.
“Certain programs [on NPR] really resonated with me, like how they were able to do in-depth narrative story telling, and so that’s something that I know I want to do — in-depth, narrative driven stories,” Rocha said.
Her older sister, Amanda Rocha, said that Natallie’s love of journalism flourished when she was in high school. When Natallie drove her younger sisters to school, they complained that she played NPR instead of a music station on the radio. Amanda also acknowledged Natallie’s persistence and curiosity, which, she said, are very important traits for a journalist.
“Having been a part of seven kids, you get to see all kinds of different personalities, different ways that people handle things,” Amanda said. “Out of a lot of our siblings, she is definitely somebody who has that persistence factor and is willing to figure out how to make things happen for herself.”
Rocha spent her Spring 2019 semester studying in New York City, where, besides taking three classes, she worked for the Brooklyn Paper as an editorial/podcast intern 20 hours a week.
“Right now I’m kind of exploring all the beats that I can,” Rocha said. “I really want to also, at the same time, avoid getting narrowed in on one topic, but try to explore different ways of covering those topics.”
While in New York, Rocha applied for an internship with the Dow Jones News Fund, where she earned a spot in the business reporting program for the summer. Rocha will be interning for Fortune Magazine, where she’ll be working on the editorial side of the publication.