Role: Health Reporter, KPCC

1.   How do you describe yourself, Michelle?

I’m a mid-career health reporter based in Southern California. I studied print journalism and romance languages as an undergraduate student at the University of Oregon, where I returned to complete a Master’s degree in Spanish. With that educational background, you can tell that I’m a communicator, a lover of language, multilingualism, and the written word.

2.   How did you get to KPCC?

I came to 89.3 KPCC Southern California Public Radio in April. I wanted to return to the health care beat and move closer to my family. It’s the culmination of years of development of my reporting skills. The path started at KAWC Colorado River Public Media in Yuma, AZ. From there, I went to WXXI in Rochester, NY and ideastream in Cleveland. I’ve gotten here with hard work and some terrific editors who’ve helped get me improve and have had my back along the way.

3.  What's the best professional decision you've ever made?

The biggest professional risk that I’ve ever taken was to walk away from a successful teaching career to return to journalism. I was a volunteer at KAWC, the station that’s licensed to Arizona Western College where I was a full-time Spanish professor. That all began because I approached the station management to offer my language skills to help expand their reporting. They agreed it was important considering the large Spanish-speaking population in the border community. After five years in a job that I loved, the station had an opening for a Morning Edition host. It was my chance to jump back into journalism, a profession that I had thought no longer had space for me.

I applied and took the job offer, a pay cut, and learned broadcasting skills that I never studied in college. While it was professionally and financially risky, ultimately, I’m grateful I took a leap and had a second chance to be a reporter.

4.   What's something you learned from a professional setback or challenge? 

That switch from higher ed to broadcast journalism wasn’t easy. I started out at a very small station with a small staff and large aspirations. Most of my efforts and energies went into learning everything I could about radio. I did everything from working with a voice coach to learning how to reset the transmitters for low and high power times. I’ve taken every opportunity for training that I’ve found, often having to find funding for my travel and entrance fees to trainings. It’s been worthwhile.

5.   What's one thing you wish you had known "then"?

In college, I studied print journalism, but indulged in training that allowed me to wade in the waters of other media. When I started, few pushed the importance of learning multiple media approaches to storytelling. Others encouraged me to focus my skills and not try everything. I wish I would have known that learning more media was only a boon to my future career. Furthermore, I’m glad that I repeatedly got the message that good writers can do anything and writing was my most valuable skill to prioritize.

Another thing I wish I’d have realized is how much I’d learn and how many opportunities were afforded me in a small market. Many young people tell me they want to start their careers in Chicago, New York, or LA, but you can learn a ton and be the first to find important stories if you start learning your skills in a small town. Honestly, reporters are needed everywhere and you may never want to leave.

6.   How have you leveraged experiences you’ve had and connections you’ve made at the NABJ/NAHJ conferences?

Every job I’ve ever gotten in broadcasting is directly related to networking. The cliché is ‘it’s not what you know, but who you know.’ That’s only half right. It’s both what you know and who you know. You’ll need to add to that how hard you work. But it’s important to know people who can help teach, guide, and recommend you.

7.   How have you leveraged experiences you’ve had and connections you’ve made at the NABJ/NAHJ conferences?

There is no better place to do real, relevant journalism than in public media. I believe everything I say on air during pledge drives. This industry can only continue to grow and improve if we bring in more people with new perspectives, backgrounds, and abilities. We need to work to diversify public media. Outreach like Think.Public.Media. is a strong start to that process.

8.   What event in your career are you most proud of?

I’m proud of the diversity of my body of work. Since I jumped into the field in 2011, I’ve spent some time hosting Morning Edition in nearly every market where I’ve worked. That taught me a lot about delivery and what hosts need from their reporters. Working around the country has taught me the similarities most Americans share, as well as the nuanced differences between regions. Finally, I think health is an amazing beat for me, but having worked on education and border issues gives an interesting context to my understanding of my beat and the country as a whole.

9.   What does your unique voice add to your media organization?

I’m a trilingual, Latina who’s well into her second career. That’s unique, right?
More than anything, my life has taught me to listen carefully and realize how little we know about other people’s past. Maybe that’s why I’m motivated to listen, learn, and help others to understand.

10.   What tips do you have for this year's NABJ, AAJA, and EIJ attendees?

Don’t approach people with an agenda, but with a hunger to learn from them. That attitude will help you gain skills, but also it will make people more eager to help you as you grow in your career. You never know what you’ll learn or how you’ll use it. It will help with your job search, but not every interaction should be treated as a transaction. Please don’t make people you approach feel used.

I cannot stress enough how important it is to give back. Once you get the ball rolling on your career, I believe it is your duty to help develop the next generation. I cannot thank my editors and mentors enough for where I am. Now, I know I have to turn around and return the favor.

Follow Michelle: @MicheReports