Catherine Combs

October, 2019


Vanessa Arredondo, Ford Emerging Voices Scholarship Recipient

Vanessa Arredondo’s Scholarship-Winning Essay

I walked into the newsroom fifteen minutes after midnight, late, my apology ready at the lips. The lights were on; reporters and editors were frantically running around, yelling commands and information. The newsroom, that was usually quiet until reporters started trickling in at 3 a.m., was buzzing with excitement.

I had just walked into my ABC 7 Early Morning News internship half an hour after news broke of a mass shooting at the Thousand Oaks Borderline Bar & Grill.

As a student journalist, this incident has been the most significant media event in my life, because it is the first national breaking news story in which I was part of the news-gathering process, working alongside writers, editors and reporters. It provided me with a chance to put my knowledge to the test in a high-pressure situation, dealing with an incredibly sensitive subject. It also made me seriously consider how this career path can weigh on one’s mental and emotional well-being.

That night, I answered phone calls, monitored social media for official updates, watched the Air 7 helicopter feed in police rescue efforts, and contacted witnesses and families of victims to give us details about the incident. I tried my best to be sensitive, thanking people for speaking with me and wishing them well.

Thousand Oaks was about a half hour away. It was a city that people didn’t know about unless they had connections to the San Fernando Valley. To us, it was an affluent neighborhood, quiet and safe. Now it has become known for this.

My shift ended at 8 a.m., and I was off until Tuesday. I had a lot of time to reflect during that weekend, and I wondered: How do journalists do this every day? How can they see so much tragedy and continue with this career path?

The shooting in Thousand Oaks made me realize that anything can happen anywhere. For a while, I didn’t leave the safety of my home. I thought about the sarcastic mantra “If it bleeds, it leads,” and was reminded of the freeway accidents we covered and the gruesome caught-on-video attacks that we pulled from the internet.

I spoke to journalists and professors about covering tragedy, and many told me they had to desensitize themselves early in their careers. Some had to step away from their jobs for a period of time after a particularly harrowing event.

Because of this incident, I reflected on what measures I would take to care for my emotional and mental needs. It made me realize that sensitivity is not antithetical to good journalism. I saw that people want and need to be heard, and journalists can act as facilitators to accomplish that.

As I continue my practice as a reporter for UC Berkeley’s student newspaper the Daily Californian, I find myself gravitating toward stories that underscore issues in communities. I would like for my journalism to serve as a platform for those who are underserved and struggling, for those who aren’t being heard.