Day 4 – Shady business

Adele walks toward the supposed location for her interview. // Snapchat by Megan Robalewski, Mosaic Staff Writer.

Adele walks toward the supposed location for her interview. // Snapchat by Megan Robalewski, Mosaic Staff Writer.

By Adele Shen, Mosaic Staff Writer

The talk to text function saves my life. It’s how I write my blog posts, it’s how I group-chat with my friends, and it’s how I keep my thumbs from cramping up. On Tuesday morning, I made the mistake of trying to message 40 people over Facebook (alumni of a my school who were relevant to my story) and I somehow, stupidly, did not expect or foresee that many of them would reply, and soon. I had planned on taking Tuesday to contact and email all my sources but I ended up taking the whole morning making a list of alumni to contact on Facebook, copy-pasting the same message to them 40+ times, and then replying to their replies and scheduling interviews. I knew we only had until Friday to finish our first draft, and I didn’t want to use all of that time interviewing, so I crammed every confirmation into Tuesday and Wednesday with half-hourly or hourly intervals. I spent 5 to 9 PM Tuesday interviewing people over phone and skipped dinner. I was the last to leave the Spartan Daily building and gave people the impression that I was working super super hard when actually, I had made some bad life choices.

The first interview I had was so disturbing because this guys point of view to me was so sheltered and unreasonable that I just wanted to lecture him right then and there. I thought the sheer awfulness of his interview would drag my entire stories angle of course. When the interviews were over and my head was spinning from the students’ not-completely-coherent points of view, I started to send out emails to professional organizations. Emails have something weird about them, in which they seem like they would only take a second to write but in actuality they are hard to start and painstaking to judge the formality with which you should contact other people (especially when they are professionals and you are a high-schooler). Even though I knew this fact my exhausted brain chose not to acknowledge it. Kaitlyn, the mom of Room 121, made me eat Cup Noodle at 11 PM that day. Without a fork. We didn’t have a fork so I had to eat with a very specific process of shaking noodles into my mouth and simultaneously not slapping it onto my face.

Both on Tuesday and Wednesday, I had asked texted different friends to pick me up some Philz coffee even though, yes, I was awake enough to text, but no, I was not awake enough to get up and walk maybe 10 yards out of campus to pick me up some Philz.

On Wednesday, I only had four student interviews but a lot more emails to send. Many of the emails I had sent the other night gave me the automatic responses that they were on vacation. Wednesday was not as stressful as Tuesday, and Thursday was even more chill.

Except when a certain prep center sent me “on location” for an in-person interview. Creo, Megan, and I were driving to drop me off at my interview first and then Megan’s. I was texting Brian about taking me from my first interview and driving me about 20 miles away to my second one while referring to a printout of Google Maps for directions (we only made one wrong turn). We were cutting it close and arrived at the street minutes before my appointment. But then we spend some stressful, critical minutes circling around the randomly clustered, badly labeled bunch of office buildings, asking construction workers and guys in suits. By then I was cussing violently and frantically emailing my interviewee an apology for being late.

Finally we found the building we needed. It was behind caution tape. Had some gaping pits on the side. No inner walls. No people. Just a bulldozer.

It was an empty shell of a building. Apparently, this center had moved recently and accidentally sent me their old address.

Change of plans then. Megan still had to go to her interview, so we dropped her off there (in another confusing cluster of office buildings that no one bothered designing or labelling logically), and Creo was going to take me directly to my second interview. I texted Brian again, saying that I actually didn’t need him, but Megan will.

And this whole time, an organization that would be a vital source for my story was emailing me about phone interview times. Was Friday 10 AM ok? Actually, was 3:30 to 5 PM Thursday ok? My second interview was at 2:45 and a 40 minute drive away, so I asked for the Friday. Unfortunately, that time was already gone.

In the turmoil of completely scrapping my first Thursday interview, Creo and I tried to figure out if the 3:30 to 5:00 worked while driving to Fremont to the second interview. We decided that I would most likely finish my interview by 3:30, and then I could conduct the important phone interview at 4 in…… Creo’s car.

Shady? Maybe, but it works. No one has to know. Luckily, my second interview ended up taking me early, and Creo and I made it back to the newsroom long before 4. I could conduct my interview in peace… on a bench in a questionably quiet hallway outside the newsroom.

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Day 3 – Stepping out of my comfort zone

Staff Writer Matt Pinkney skims through the Mercury News during breakfast. // Photo by Hannah Chebeleu, Mosaic Staff Photographer.

Staff Writer Matt Pinkney skims through the Mercury News during breakfast. // Photo by Hannah Chebeleu, Mosaic Staff Photographer.

By Matt Pinkney, Mosaic Staff Writer

Today was my first day of going out and getting interviews.  I woke up both excited and nervous.  Obviously it was good to start making headway on my story, but I haven’t done interviews in a few months.  And every time I’ve done interviews, it’s been with kids.  Going out and interviewing adults is a completely different experience.  I hoped that nervous feeling in my stomach would go away.  Tea helps.

I spent the morning and lunch going over questions and doing some last minute research.  When I left with Hannah and Brian, I was more excited than nervous.  And then, more nervous than excited.  And then tired.  We picked up some other reporters and brought them back to campus.  I’ll admit I maybe considered leaving right then.  Not sincerely, but the thought was there.

We drove to Grand Century Mall in the heart of Little Saigon, the focus of my story.  We stepped out into the blazing sun and walked into the mall.  It felt like stepping into a foreign country.  Every sign was in Vietnamese, every store was catered to Vietnamese customers and everywhere, the Vietnamese language floated into my ears.  As an outsider, it was all fascinating and really cool to experience.  As a journalist, one question came back to my mind.

How do I talk to people?

The first woman we talked to was a little shy at first and sort of mumbled her answers to me.  Then Brian came to the rescue and explained who I was and what I was asking her.  After that, she was not shy about letting us know everything.  When Hannah asked her for pictures, she put on some makeup and let her hair down.  She was a beauty queen or something and she was very proud of her accomplishments.

The next lady we talked to was a lot shyer.  She worked at the supermarket and was really worried about us coming in and taking pictures.  She called her boss and everything was okay in the end. Hannah took a bunch of pictures of the market and the people in it.

We talked to a few more people in the neighboring Vietnam Town before finally heading home.  Little Saigon is a part of San Jose I hadn’t experienced or even really known about before, and I don’t think it’s something I would have experienced if it wasn’t for Mosaic.  I’m happy that I got this chance to step outside of my comfort zone and try something new.

Day 2 – Be aggressive

Mosaic staff writer Shannon Yang works on her story before deadline.

Mosaic staff writer Shannon Yang works on her story before deadline. // Photo by Creo Noveno

By Shannon Yang, Mosaic Staff Writer

Today I did my first ever Mosaic interview. I’m working on a story about a coding summer program, so I interviewed one of the co-founders by phone.

At first, I was very nervous and I didn’t know how to approach the interview. I had no idea what to ask. I was stalking his company and his summer program over the internet, and I knew more than normal people would because my brother and many of my friends are hackers in his circle, and I even know some people who had gone through the program.

But then I realized my knowledge was only skin deep. I knew what they were doing but I didn’t really understand why. Or why it was cool. Or anything deeper, really. So that’s what I set out to do. I came up with a list of a ton of questions.

My editor, Marcos, told me that I didn’t sound confident. I needed to kick ass and rock his socks over the phone and sound like I was more than just a 15-year-old. After all, this co-founder saw people my age kicking ass by making cool apps. Marcos also told me to not procrastinate, and to never fall into teenage wasteland. I was a journalist, not just a 15-year-old.

This guy, the co-founder, was a chill guy in his early twenties, and he understood many of the realities of youth today. He was easy to talked to – and he liked to talk. One of my challenges ended up being trying to retain all of his quotes.

But I’ll admit, they weren’t the best questions. I asked things like, “How much money did you guys make?” which he didn’t tell me. But he did tell me about the faults in the traditional educational system, and how he was frustrated and set out to change that. He told me the successes and the philosophy behind the program. And he invited me to follow up and to visit the site in Sunnyvale next week.

Today I learned how to put my insecurities aside and be more aggressive. And even though some people don’t know what journalism is (one of my friends asked me today), it can be pretty damn powerful.

Day 2 – Leave a message at the tone

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Mosaic staff writer Jacky Tsang learns the camera basics. // Photo by Hannah Chebeleu, Mosaic Staff Photographer.

By Aysha Rehman, Mosaic Staff Writer

I think I called almost every homeless shelter in San Jose and I haven’t gotten anyone of them to call me back except one. One. Right now I feel like I’m just biding my time until this story slips through the cracks, and honestly, I’m feeling rejected. Like maybe this won’t be as big a story as I see it.

I decided to write about the homeless when I had an important discussion with my dad oh so long ago. I had started reading quite a bit about the plight of the homeless when a series on the issue appeared on the Al Jazeera America website. Ever since then I’ve always had an interest in writing about the homeless here, in our own backyard.

My plan for now is just to plan out my questions, and wait, because if all I have is that one shelter to cover, than I hope I cover it well, because these people all have stories, and it’s about time we stopped ignoring what they have to tell us.

As I sit here wasting away waiting for a phone call, I wonder what kinds of people I’m going to talk to, or what stories they have to tell me. How they became homeless, or how they get by on a day-to-day basis. To me, it’s unimaginable how we can subject our fellow human beings to this kind of living when we ourselves remain ignorant of the fallacies of the American dream, but I digress.

Tomorrow I hope someone calls me back, and allows me access into this oft forgotten world of those we have essentially deemed “the other.” I want to see what it’s like in the shoes of those who we toss a quarter or two into charity for, those who we see at Christmas time but neglect to see in the heat of summer.

Maybe the next day will hold replies and maybe some leads to go off of, but as for now, I’m leaving a message at the tone.

Find stories worth telling, and tell them well

Sophie Ho, Mosaic C/O 2011

By Sophie Ho, Mosaic C/O 2011

When all you know is a suburb for 17 years, it’s natural to become frustrated with what you perceive to be a limited community and a lack of stories — you feel like you’re stuck in a bubble, or at least I did, and any chance to learn about the world outside is beyond exciting. When I was 17, I decided to apply to Mosaic for that reason — burst my bubble, improve my writing and hopefully, learn how to better tell a compelling story.

I was rejected. Talk about a bubble burst.

But a week before the program started, Joe Rodriguez called me and asked if I was still interested. To whoever dropped out of Mosaic at that last moment and gave me their spot in their program, I really can’t thank you enough. Mosaic changed my life.

The story I pitched was a feature on a children’s theater in San Jose for developmentally disabled individuals. During my reporting, the theater director put me in touch with the Heathcote family, a local family in which three of the five children were diagnosed with autism. When I told my editor, Marcos Cabrera, about the family, he stopped me and said he wanted to know their story as well.

I hadn’t really done a profile before, but on paper and in practice it seemed straightforward enough and easy to coordinate. So, on a muggy afternoon, I was dropped off at the Heathcote house, notebook in hand and ready to talk.

I stopped in front of the door, raised my hand to knock and then froze. I thought, suddenly, of the people inside — a mother, her three autistic children and one baby. Over email and the phone to arrange the interview, my sources seemed distant, approachable and intangible. But when I stood five feet away from them, separated by a door that would swing open in seconds, I realized that I was about to interview five strangers at once. I got nervous, and I panicked. My mind stuttered and I blanked on the questions I had thought of the night before.

After a few beats, I exhaled and knocked. The Heathcote family welcomed me into their home and what followed was a story I never thought I would write; about what it was like to raise a family when many of your children had developmental disabilities, and what it meant to grow together as a unit by embracing those challenges.

The reporting and writing weren’t easy — my editors Marcos and Joe pushed me every step of the way, asking me why I thought the stories were important and worth telling. The most important lesson I learned from Mosaic was to be invested in your work and care about the stories you’re telling — believe in the work you’re producing, no matter what the medium or the circumstances. Important stories are everywhere, but you can’t sit around waiting for them to happen to you.

Mosaic hooked me on journalism, and right now, that’s the career I’ve set my sights on. Since leaving Mosaic, I became the top news editor at my college newspaper, managing 30 reporters, writing features, live-tweeting through tear gas and covering protests. I dabbled in radio production, curious to see how audio reporters approached their stories, and ended up writing features and producing interviews. I most recently interned with AJ+, Al Jazeera’s digital news arm, where I made content for their mobile news app and began to see social media as a storytelling tool.

Though I’ve worked in different mediums, the tenets of journalism remain the same across them all — find stories worth telling, and tell them well. Know why the story is important, because if you don’t, who will? I imagine my mentors — Marcos, Joe and Elliot — sitting at a table around me and saying to me, don’t panic.Trust your instincts. Why are you writing this? Why do you think this story is important? Why tell it at all?

As you’re about to embark on this two week journey with your fellow students, think critically about the work you’re producing. Recognize that you have a voice — sometimes that’s easy to forget in high school, or to never know if you haven’t had the opportunity yet to exercise it.

Welcome to Mosaic.