Clarissa Gordon: sharing her voice from Rutgers University

Clarissa Gordon is a sophomore Journalism major and Creative writing minor at Rutgers University. A good friend of mine, she was born and raised in New York City and we have always shared a passion for reading and writing. She currently writes for the Daily Targum, a student-written and student-managed newspaper and for Trim magazine, the fashion magazine on campus. Whether her articles take a journalistic approach or they include a version of herself I have always admired her writing. I chose to her to do my digital writer profile on because I hoped to learn about how she implements her voice and grows as a writer despite limitations and the influences and inspirations behind her work.

I began our conversation by asking Clarissa how she got involved in writing outside of the classroom

Clarissa: I took a basic writing for journalism and media class my first semester of sophomore year and realized I had a knack for reporting, especially with the current political climate and my overall interest in current events so I decided to pop into the Targum offices. It only took me two articles before they offered me a position as a correspondent and on the side I write for Trim.

Clarissa, typical to most New Yorkers, has always had a special interest in current events that deal with entertainment and pop culture. So even on a large campus like Rutgers she connects her interests by writing articles on a campus Spring Drag Show and Rutgers FORM (Fashion Organization of Retail and Marketing) fashion show showcases.

What version of yourself are you trying to portray online through your articles?

 Clarissa: Well first things first as a journalist I’m never to insert my opinions into my articles – maybe if I’m writing a review on an art exhibition or a fashion show, but even then, opinion is scarce. Trim is where I’m allowed to really be creative and use my voice: I mostly write for the love and lust column, and as someone who considers themselves a sex positive feminist, I try to empower my female readers, which I think is especially important on a college campus where young women might struggle finding or accepting themselves.

I admire Clarissa as a writer because I have always known her as a strongly opinionated person and she uses her voice to advocate issues that are important to shed light on.

What are some things you keep in mind when writing something new?

Clarissa: I mostly just try to showcase clear and concise writing skills while at the same time making sure my article is interesting and attention-grabbing.

And lastly I asked, what inspires/influences you as a writer?

 Clarissa: Ever since I can remember I’ve always liked to write – I used to sit down in front of my first laptop and jot down chapters of novels in like elementary school…so that passion has always kind of been there. More recently, I think I was definitely inspired by Lena Dunham and how she’s a great writer on so many levels – she can be a journalist and a story teller when she wants to be, but she’s also great at writing jokes and films and tv shows and basically anything she sets her mind to. I’m also inspired by young women I know personally who are writing for Vogue and the New Yorker. Their salaries aren’t the best, but when you’re a writer, money isn’t really ever the end goal.

 

My Profile

For my profile, I interviewed my friend Katie. She currently writes for The Review as a Senior Reporter. She hopes to hone her writing skills in this position and apply them beyond UD in her journalism career. My goal for this interview is to probe Katie about some topics we’ve been churning about, plus her writing and where she wants to go with it. I picked Katie to interview because she’s an open person and has experience with different types of writing. I find her tone in her pieces to be exciting enough to keep people interested, but not explosive enough to turn people off.

First things first, I ask her to tell me about the pieces she’s written so far. I wanted to see if they were mostly in one genre, and I found quite the opposite.

“So far it’s been pretty diverse. I have a column, I recently wrote a satire piece for them. I’ve covered a few events, and I’m going to localize a global story for my next piece. I just got published in Delaware Today. It was a sports piece, which is pretty new for me.”

When Katie talks about being on the job as a reporter, her face lights up. I think that is a testament to someone who has found their calling; she is able to adapt in her chosen profession to produce a variety of pieces.

Next I wanted to tackle something we’ve been discussing in class. Being cog in the wheel of journalism, she has a unique perspective on the field and where it’s going. I was looking to see if she’s more Carrful or Boydish by nature.

How do you feel about physical newspapers vs. online publishing? Do you think the internet is destroying the authenticity of reporting or is it a tool for better circulation?

            “I always love seeing my work in the physical newspaper when it comes out-” I can imagine there is an added element excitement to see your words printed in such a form utilized so much powerful writers who came before us. “it makes it feel a lot more real to me. Would it be weird to say I like the smell of them?” I appeased her on this query, but I’m more a book sniffer myself. “That said, I think it would be naïve to say that the internet is singularly destroying or helping newspapers…[it’s] more of a grey area. I think that with the public’s ability to post anything they want, people are wary of the media nowadays and trust the real newspapers much less. But I also think that the internet allows people who may not otherwise read a physical newspaper to get their hands on good journalism. The model is definitely [undergoing] a transition, so I’m excited to see where it will go.”

            We’ve talked a lot about the impression society has of the journalist in our Journalism class. Because of recent events in the news, it is hard for the average person to feel like their news source is as unbiased as possible. Like Katie said, it is hard for the public to trust the media especially newspapers. She touched on something here that we haven’t a lot in class, which is the influx of new readers that have come on the scene because of its availability online. She gives us a good example of this…

            “Students using their UD emails can get a huge discount on The New York Times online. Being a broke college student that I am, I probably couldn’t or wouldn’t shell out the money of a full physical description.” Good to know.

Finally, I asked her about her ultimate goal for her time at The Review. I was looking to see where she wants to go UD and beyond.

“I definitely want to continue to sharpen my skills and begin to write more long form stories, and I also think editing or taking some sort of leadership role would be cool. Long term my dream job would be to have someone pay me to travel and write about it. I’m not sure that job actually exists, but in a perfect world that’s what I would do.”

            To wrap up, I asked her if she had any advice for writing online pieces.

“Try to make it so that every paragraph you’re writing either says something interesting or alludes to something interesting you are going to say later. Each sentence a reader reads should make them want to read more. This keeps your reader on your article. Doing this without being click baity or gimmicky is difficult and requires you to be conscious of each sentence you’re writing, it’s relevance, and how it fits and flows with the piece. Also: don’t use interactive tools. Unless they’re adding something to the story, they can be straight up annoying.”

 

 

Writer to Writer, Friend to Friend

The person I chose to profile and interview is both somebody who I consider good friend of mine, as well as someone who I deeply admire as a writer. Katherine [Katie] Nails is a Senior Reporter for UD’s newspaper, The Review, as well as a freelance contributor to DelawareToday Magazine.

Katie is not only an immensely talented writer, but she is informative and fun to read as well. As a journalist, Katie is charged with the daunting task of keeping her text concise; providing sufficient material while keeping the reader interested and engaged. While I am personally not very adept at getting points across succinctly, the way that Katie writes makes it appear effortless. Moreover, Katie’s terse style does not detract from personal voice or style to the point of banality. Something she does exceptionally well is add flare and creativity to journalistic pieces. One of my favorite lines that she has written comes from a recently published column in The Review about her journey to her birthplace of Chicago following the Cubs 2016 World Series victory. It is the very last line of the piece.

This line epitomizes what it means to be an effective writer: It incorporates voice and creativity without drowning the reader in a sea of words. When reading this quote, I can immediately visualize the atmosphere following a World Series victory, an over joyous crowd of millions forgoing their differences in the name of love for a baseball team and a city. That being said, as a reader I don’t have to bend over backwards to understand the meaning behind the text, and it feels as though I could be having a normal conversation with Katie.

I recently sat down with the author herself for a brief interview regarding her work and the trials and tribulations of being a writer. I started our conversation asking about what appeals to her about writing, and more particularly journalism: “The job itself is like a scavenger hunt for me”, she said.  “It’s like a puzzle that has to be put together. And then the actual writing part is kind of like…I’ve always enjoyed I guess [sic] the creativity of being able to express myself. I’ve always just liked words, but then journalism kind of allows me to use them to make a difference.” Katie enjoys both the hunt for clues and answers that comes with being a reporter, as well as the creative outlet and ability to evoke ideas and change that comes from being a writer in general.

I then proceeded to inquire about who her intended audience is when she writes: “…For the Review, it’s obviously the Review’s readers, who are mostly college students and professor but then I also do…I’m also a columnist, so with my columns…they’re pretty personal to me, but I also try to sort of widen them to get anybody who reads, you know anybody who happens to get their hands on it to see something in another way.” Katie writes to inform her community, which, seeing as she is a college student, happens to be comprised mostly of fellow college students. However, she writes her columns not so much for a specific audience, but for anyone who might enjoy reading a creative piece of writing.

I decided to transition to asking about how she incorporates voice and her own unique style into her writing: “…Well you know me pretty well, I’m fairly sarcastic, I…I don’t know I kind of have like short little quips I guess. And you can definitely see that in my writing…like I said journalism is pretty hard you’re not really allowed to insert your own voice, but…you apply your style through the structure of the story.” I believe we both happened to be a bit confused about terminology here. Personally, I can clearly hear Katie’s voice in her writing, and I definitely can spot where she likes to insert witticisms. However, I think that when she discusses an inability to insert voice in a journalistic piece, that this actually refers to tone. She definitely seeks to be objective in her reporting, but I can still get sense her style, which I think is synonymous with voice, in all of her pieces. Her tone, on the other hand, must not sway one way or another in order to remain unbiased.

Finally, I asked her one last question regarding what she felt to be the most difficult part of her job as a writer: “I mean the most difficult part I think would be…as a journalist your job is to be pushy and make people uncomfortable, but make them still want to talk to you. It’s kind of like finding that line and toeing it but not jumping over it. It’s like a very fine line that we’re constantly walking…” Although I have little journalism experience, I understand this concept: you want to divulge as much valuable information from someone as possible, but you don’t want to turn them off from talking to you. It’s as if you are walking a tightrope.

This interview was very casual, yet informative, and I am happy to have been able to gain new insights into journalism and Katie’s work.