Empanadas, The Hustle, And Finding Your Form As A Creative

Interview by Mariana Ochoa

The changing caras(faces) of journalism has led to a treasure chest of possibilities through digital media. But what is it like to make a living in digital media? A job that requires one to constantly weave together creativity, relevance, and facts while exploring new mediums.

Recently, I had the pleasure of eating empanadas on a beautiful Miami day with writers and editors in the digital media field, we talked about what it was like to make money as a journalist and creative in this field and what they feel about where they find themselves now, post 2016.

Brenda Santana, Veronica Lopez, Jessica Roiz, Katerina Torres, and Aisha Moktadier live and work in Miami, a city that is only recently being known to house upcoming tech and digital projects.

We got together to share our stories so far:

How do you feel about your present situation, career wise? Did you always see yourself doing what you are doing now?

Brenda: I'm okay about where I am in my career. At this point, I thought I'd be much further along, (cough cough) more money. I always saw myself more in the broadcasting realm versus writing, but I love writing so much!

Jessica: So, I guess right now I’m just happy that I am able to work in my career in the city I was born and raised in(Miami). I just feel very lucky, because I know colleagues that have had to relocate to get their dream job, they just haven’t had that luck. But the opportunities are out there, you just have to be passionate and really good at what you do. It’s not “all contacts” like they say.

Katerina: I agree with Jess, it’s not always about who you know and it’s more so about what you have to offer that maybe someone else can’t offer, because of your unique experience, because a lot of the opportunities I’ve had wasn’t because I had an in there. It wasn’t like I had someone there vouching for me, I kind of had to prove my work myself. But in terms of where I am, I think I am very happy and feel very fortunate because I think at a fairly young age, I’ve been able to accomplish more than I thought I could and for me it’s really like extra special because I lived in the media capital of the world(NYC) and I left the media capital of the world, and I was still able to find a job in digital media, where I was able to contribute to helping something get off the ground and get its identity, and helped form a team. I think when I look back, I am only 26 years old and I’ve had the opportunity to do that, I think that’s pretty special.

Jessica: Like a pioneer basically.

Aisha: I always thought I would end up in the field because I’ve been studying journalism since I was 11, because I went to a magnet middle and high school for it and so I kind of just fell into it in college. But when I graduated from college, it took me 8 months to get a job and it was really rough. You start doubting yourself, you start thinking that maybe you’re not good enough for it or your field is too saturated and what can you possibly do to make yourself stand out? But my parents kept telling me not to settle for a job that was outside of my field. They supported me financially and emotionally, they were really there. So then I found my way here and I was really really happy about it, because for being 23, what I get to do is really cool and I get a lot of freedom with it, to touch on topics that I think are really important politically, socially, and culturally. But I would have to say that I think something to remember is to always pitch relentlessly. If you really think that you could do something, you should definitely do it, it’s finding the place that you think your story belongs. The other thing too is if you have a great idea, just go after it, if you have an idea for a column, pitch the column somewhere that doesn’t have that column already, if you have an outside talent like creative writing or something, submit to literary magazines, submit your poetry, host workshops, just do really cool projects, mix art and writing together, whatever it is you want to do, if you want to go out and do something just find the place to do it, find your form.

Veronica what do you think?  

Veronica: I always knew that I liked to write, but I didn’t know I wanted to be a reporter until I was half way through high school. It took a few classes and a few experiences for me to realize it’s what I wanted, because my main question to myself was always, what am I good at and how can I make a living off of it? And that’s how I fell into journalism. And I’m really happy with where I am now because I just graduated a few months ago and I got a job 2 months out of college, which I think is pretty special. But also a lot of the opportunities that I’ve had are because I knew someone who knew someone. But one of the opportunities that I am the most proud of, I got without any help at all and I got through what I was working on. So I really think it’s a mixture of both, having resources and also being aggressive. You have to be aggressive if you are going to be a creative, I think you have to know the balance between being aggressive and being too pushy where it’s like uncomfortable, like you need to be able to be really persistent, but also not annoying, but you also can’t be afraid to be annoying, it’s a fine line and I’m still trying to master it. I think that’s what is a great thing about this field, is that you learn as you go, and you learn through your experiences.  

Aisha: So, I think she’s right that you have to be aggressive, because most of the time I’ve had zero contacts and it was really kind of like, here’s this idea that I have and I just reach out. And when you go to pitch you have to explain to an editor, why are you the one to write this story? And it’s the same when you go to apply for a job. Why are you the one they should hire? In terms of contacts, in June 2015, I pitched to the Guardian and the editor reached out to me and said the idea was really good, but I hadn’t master the pitch yet, but he asked if I wanted to skype and he would help me hone the pitch a little more. I didn’t expect that, so we skyped and he asked me what my interests were, I said I really loved writing about politics and society, and he said ‘ok, well that’s really broad, so what about politics?’ and so I kind of honed in more on women’s and gender issues, so when I started writing articles about the election, I focused more on the feminist side in terms of the election, so it’s really about finding some kind of area that you want to focus on, honing your skills on that, and then you end up, from he told me, becoming an expert.

Katerina: I think something that Aisha touched on that I think is really good advice for all creatives is that sometimes because you’re trying to make a name for yourself, you think that you need to appeal to a mass audience and that isn’t the case, the more specific you are, the more particular you are with your interests, the more you’re going to strike a nerve. So, I think that it’s really important for creatives not to get hung up on mass appeal. I think it’s important that creatives embrace what makes them special and what sets them apart, because I think that will resonate more than if you are trying to put up a front just to attract more viewers.

Brenda: My advice is to be persistent, be annoying, be memorable! And if you can't get your way in an established company or corporation, forge your own path using social media. I definitely enjoy doing what I want when I want. Sometimes I may find what others are doing interesting, but I always try to put my own individual spin.

On “the hustle” of working in digital media:

Jessica: Something that they might not tell you about journalism is that just as there are struggling artists and struggling musicians, there’s a lot of struggling journalists. I graduated when I was 27 and I started working as a journalist at 27 and I’m 30 now, so I’ve been laid off twice, when I applied for the job I have now I told them, I just want stability! Fuck my relationship, I just want stability in my job! I’ve been laid off twice because things are just getting tough and to be in this industry you have to be super passionate, super passionate. Whatever they offer, you have to really really really like this to accept it. Even with freelancing, they pay you 20 bucks an article. If you really want to get your name out there, you do it. You have to go in it with a very open mind, this is not your regular 9-5 job.

Veronica: you have to be willing to hustle for sure.

Aisha: You can’t be afraid to do things for free at first, sometime it takes a lot to build a foundation because why do people want to look at you, why would an employer want to look at you? Especially in this age where everyone, there’s digital media, people have blogs, like everyone is a writer, so what makes you special. Establishing yourself as a writer can be really tough in the beginning because you’re going to do a lot of things that are free, you might write for smaller publications, you might be like, what’s that? What’s the Miami Rail? Like local stuff, a lot of times it might be free, you may not get compensated and you have to be A ok with that, at least for a little while.  

Veronica: There has to be a line too. I never got paid for an internship all throughout college, and I’ve had 4 or 5 internships. And I was telling somebody not too ago who said, ‘oh I’ve never had an internship that I didn’t get paid for, I’ve always been paid for all my internships.’

Aisha: It depends on the field that you are in.

Veronica: Well, she was a reporter too and I was like well you got really lucky with that, but you can’t be afraid to hustle and to work for free, but at the same time there comes a point where at least after you graduate, you can’t let people take advantage of you either and that’s important because you have to be respected for your work in order to make a living off of it. For a lot of us, it’s not something we are doing on the side, journalism isn’t something that is just a hobby or something for fun, it’s something that we pay our bills with, we pay our rent with.

Jess: We pay our Wine Wednesdays with, mmm!


Mariana Ochoa