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.