From the nerve-racking application process, until the moment I saw my final product ready for publication, my experience at NPR’s Next Generation Radio has felt like an adrenaline-fueled race to an invisible finish line where the prize was the ability to finally catch a breath.

The first day felt intimidating. Walking into a room full of journalists who have made a name for themselves in the industry with their outstanding work, with five other participants who, from what I’d seen through social media digging, were go-getter, overachievers like me, was intimidating. Not to mention, Traci Tong, whom I personally admire for her work on the PRI podcast The World, would be overseeing the program as our producer. This was by no means a competition, but the pressure was on. 

When Next Generation Radio director and founder Doug Mitchell asked me about how I found my subject, I told him that I had met him through a mutual employer a couple of years ago. Traci gave me a slightly disappointed look that burned through my head for the rest of the day. She told me that they did not encourage using acquaintances as subjects because it can create a conflict of interest in the story. But because my subject and I are not close enough to call each other friends, she allowed me to continue with the condition that I would get a good story. 

That made me feel discouraged. I explained to her that I had misinterpreted the application where it said “find someone outside your community” by thinking ‘I am an immigrant from Mexico and my background is Hispanic, so I have to do it about someone with a different perspective,’ rather than the intended ‘do not interview people you know.’ I felt so embarrassed, l felt naive. That day I left with a bad taste in my mouth, as these thoughts loomed in my head. But once I was home, I promised myself that I would use all my abilities and strengths to create a story that would redeem my mistake.

From then on, the days went by in a blur. I worked for hours on end with my mentor Elizabeth McQueen, host of KUTX podcast This Song, taking breaks only to pick up take-out from nearby restaurants and continuing to work through lunch. We edited, wrote and re-edited with the energy of ten journalists. I am very thankful to have been paired with Elizabeth. She was so understanding of what I wanted to do, and so insightful when I couldn’t figure out how to continue. 

The whole experience was very humbling. With my previous experience as editor of the ACC Star, I am used to being left to my devices to make my own decisions. Next Generation Radio taught me where my weaknesses are, which will prepare me to do my job better, how to work under tight deadline pressure, and gave me the opportunity to sharpen up my strengths. It also left me feeling optimistic about my future in media, and hungry to continue learning the process of creating quality journalism.

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