She: Chicagoland Journalist Andrea V. Watson
Hailing from Chicagoland, journalist Andrea V. Watson is blooming in her career as a prominent journalist covering the Chicago South Side. Andrea writes with the mission to show the beauty and resiliency of several of Chicago's black communities. She understands the importance of a building a strong network, having gained many opportunities by having the courage to seek out the mentorship from journalists who have come before her. Keep reading to learn more about Andrea's career and philosophy.
Tell me about yourself.
I grew up in suburban Chicago Heights in a home with my parents and four younger siblings.
I am a reporter/producer for a digital news publication called DNAinfo.com. I report on Chicago South Side neighborhoods such as Englewood and Roseland. Before that, I was at the Chicago Defender, a historic African American newspaper. I received my bachelor’s degree in English with a concentration in media studies from the University of Illinois at Chicago. I took a year off to pursue another career, but realized I was truly in love with journalism so I went to graduate school in 2012. I received my master’s in journalism with a focus on public affairs from Columbia College Chicago.
I chose to go to college in Chicago because the city has always felt like home, plus I wanted to take advantage of the year-round internship opportunities Chicago offers.
When and how did you become interested in journalism?
I officially became interested in journalism at 15 years old. My high school encouraged us to start thinking of future careers my sophomore year and that’s when I really began to do my research and think about things I liked to do. Really, I think I the interest was sparked around 10, maybe even younger, when I would watch the 10 p.m. local news with my mother. I remember asking her how did those people (the anchors) get that job. She told me they probably went to school for journalism. I used to practice speaking in the bathroom mirror as if I were in front of the camera myself. I knew I wanted to tell stories.
I’ve always loved writing. I started writing little plays when I was nine and would make my siblings act out the scenes for our parents. By 12, I was filling up notebooks meant for school, with poetry. In high school I started writing short stories. I always loved to read and I wanted to see if I could write just as good, if not better than some of my favorite authors. It was only natural that I gravitated towards journalism as I got older. Writing and storytelling has always been a passion of mine.
As a black reporter, I make a conscious effort to highlight the good news on the South Side [of Chicago]. I’m doing my part to help change the narrative that some have tried to create about black people.
—Andrea V. Watson
Walk me through the step-by-step process that you went through to get to where you are today.
First, I wouldn’t be where I’m at now without God. I know he’s been with me this entire journey so far. I’ve been blessed to keep a job in a field that has few. On my end, I learned the importance of networking early on. Freshman year of college, I attended a lot of workshops to learn how to give my elevator pitch, how to network, how to basically promote myself. I used to be very shy and I told myself that I had to step out of that shell if I wanted to be a successful journalist.
I was able to get my first journalism internship through a stranger, who is actually one of my mentors today. I was attending my first National Association of Black Journalists convention in 2010 when I met an editor. She said she was looking for interns so I handed her my resume and I continued to reach out after the trip. After much persistence, she invited me in for an interview. I got the internship and I worked really hard. Later on, I started freelancing for the Chicago Defender. My second internship was at NBC 5. I met the news planning editor at a wedding. When I heard someone mention who she was, I immediately found her on the dance floor and asked if we could talk in the hall. I always carried business cards on me. We talked and kept in touch. I later got an internship with her.
At that point in my life, I was desperately trying to build up my resume and gain as much experience as possible. I was an English major trying to prove to editors that I could be a great reporter, that I had potential and that I was a quick learner.
Over the years, I landed several other amazing internship opportunities. I just continued to network. I was in school full-time, I always had a non-journalism related job and I was constantly making sure I was in the room with the right ones in my field. My career was and still is my main focus.
What writing assignment would you say had the most impact on your life and career?
The story that had the most impact on my life was the first story I did on the organization My Block My Hood My City. The group takes teens from the South and West sides to the North Side and downtown. They get to experience new activities, try new foods and meet professionals from different industries. To write that first story I had to experience everything with the teens. I saw firsthand what that exposure did for them. It made me want to volunteer and help teen girls.
One of the stories that helped my career was the story I broke on a high school senior who was banned from prom for a poem she read at her school’s talent show. It was a local story that quickly went international.
How would you describe your personal brand?
My personal brand focuses on positivity. The types of stories I always seek to cover are the positive ones. As a black reporter, I make a conscious effort to highlight the good news on the South Side. I’m doing my part to help change the narrative that some have tried to create about black people. Yes, I cover the good and the bad, that’s the nature of the job, but a lot of people know that I’m more interested in highlighting success stories than perpetuating stereotypes. I take my role as a reporter very serious.
Besides reporting, I love encouraging people, especially young women. I enjoy speaking to students.
What goal(s) have you set to take your writing to career to the next level? How do you plan to achieve your goal(s)?
To take my career to the next level, I’ve set the goal of learning more technical skills. Digital and editing skills are everything in this industry. I plan to stay fresh and current so I take advantage of workshops and conferences whenever my schedule allows. I also love YouTube tutorials. There are a lot of good ones out there.
Speaking of next level, what does that level look like for you?
Ultimately, I want to work for myself. I would love to explore other forms of storytelling. I’ve always been interested in documentaries. Everything I do would still focus on the black community so our issues and our success stories.
What is the biggest challenge you believe journalism is facing today? What do you believe can be done to overcome this challenge?
A lot of newsrooms are short staffed and still lack diversity. This poses an issue because we all bring different perspectives and see news through different lenses. In a perfect world, all newsrooms would have an evenly distributed team of reporters who come from different backgrounds and ethnicities. The only way to see improvement in this area is for more people of color to get into leadership roles with news corporations. They in turn, will ensure that others get the opportunity to work there.
What advice would you give to the next woman who wants to start a journalism career?
I would tell women to join national and local journalism organizations. Keep trying to break into the industry. It’s definitely not easy, but it’s possible. I did it and I didn’t even have a journalism degree back then. Besides constantly networking, it’s important to keep writing.
Anything more you want to add?
Just thank Freeing She for the opportunity to be featured on the website. I’ve always considered myself a private person, but if sharing my story can help encourage and empower others, then I’m always willing to open up. I didn’t do this journey alone. There are a lot of people over the years who have no idea how much they’ve motivated me to keep going when I wanted to give up. Those individuals simply shared their struggles, which lead to their testimony and that in turn encouraged me to not give up. I want others to know that no one has had a perfect life and that some of the most successful people have been through the most. The climb to the top is never easy so make sure you’re pulling the right one during the come up.