When I set foot into my first journalism class in the Fall of 2015, I only had one thought: I am not going to be a journalist. I am here because my parents persuaded me against getting an English degree. I was going to become a storyteller, not a reporter.
I, the self-proclaimed future New York Times best-selling author, picked the path of journalism because it was writing without the painstaking dissection of English literature. My professor was the night news editor for the Miami Herald, Joan Chrissos, and she further cemented my idea of not becoming a reporter. After all, she kept reminding us that we would end up in tiny newsrooms in the middle of nowhere and my life plan did not include the middle of nowhere.
If poor, naïve 18-year-old me would see me now…she’d screech in horror.
The definition for the storyteller is self-explanatory: A person who tells or writes stories. And something no one told me was journalism is a form of storytelling – a non-fiction one, with on-the-clock deadlines.
Something in me clicked, possibly overnight, when I found myself spending less time in words of make-believe and in a world of concise factual writing. Maybe it was my obsession with getting a perfect score on the news quizzes by former Los Angeles Times editor and professor Dan Evans, or the storyteller in me realized that stories are everywhere. (My money is on the former).
My life changed on Nov. 18, 2017, when Books & Books owner Mitchell Kaplan introduced me to his film production business partner as “a reporter from the Miami Herald.” At the time I was writing a news article about a book-turned movie for my advanced journalism class, and through a classmate, I got the opportunity to write a more in-depth piece for the local newspaper. I did it because I wanted to guarantee an A in my class. Before that day, I would always introduce myself as an FIU student in the journalism department – after all, I was not going to be a reporter. I was just in it for the degree. I had somehow become Maria the Reporter, not Maria the Student trying to get straight A’s. A seed had been planted, and when my penultimate semester came to a close, a flower had sprouted.
Soon, I found myself emailing the news director for the student media news service— South Florida News Service (SFNS)— for a spot in the team as a reporter (I had missed the application deadline because at the time Maria the Reporter was not a concept). I quit my boring social media marketing office job, and started writing news articles for SFNS.
It’s funny how Kaplan’s words, that one little sentence, transformed everything in my life.
I wish it had happened sooner.
After I declared myself Maria the reporter, I began dreaming of bylines in different news organizations. Maria, the Buzzfeed reporter; Maria, the BBC reporter; Maria, the New York Times reporter.
As an SFNS reporter, I got a taste of the type of news stories I enjoyed writing – features.
Before I discovered that I fancied feature writing, I covered underreported community stories; I reported on the Parkland students’ March for Our Lives movement in Washington D.C. in which I road in a bus for an ungodly amount of hours with day-old Subway sandwiches and was part of a breaking news team covering FIU’s bridge collapse on 8th street that won me the 13th place on the Hearst Journalism Awards Program.
As exciting as breaking news may be, feature stories called to me when I got the opportunity to write a few pieces in my capstone class. The long-form of news writing, where I have more room to play around with words and can bring scenes through life with imagery.
Now, I am soon to embark on a new journey. In February of next year, I will undertake an adventure in Sydney, Australia at the University of Sydney to earn a master’s degree. Why am I going for a master’s degree instead of entering the job market people ask? Because at the time of applying and getting accepted into graduate school, I was scared of not being good enough for the places I hope to write for, which was a mistake on my part. The gears have begun turning and there is no turning back from my decisions, but while in Sydney I plan on applying to every media organization’s internship opportunity and make Maria the Reporter known.
My vision has changed. While I still pursue to bring characters and tales that reside in my imagination to life, I also will chase down stories that must be brought to light.
Fiction or non-fiction, at the end of the day my childhood dream remains the same: to become Maria the Storyteller.