The first time I saw The Indypendent was at an activist meeting at Hunter College. I was going to school and working as a waitress and a temp and thinking about how I could break into journalism.
I was enrolled in a media studies program at CUNY-Hunter College. I decided I would write for the Indy as much as I could and learn how it’s done. I had zero experience, yet the editors at the Indy made me feel like I was a reporter, and I wanted to rise to the high standards set for me. When I later wrote for other publications, I realized they are not always there to walk you through a story, brainstorm potential sources or do four edits of an article.
A story I did in the spring of 2004 about a Junior ROTC recruiting program in Bedford-Stuyvesant really marked the beginning of my identity as a journalist. I was walking to the subway one day when I saw a bunch of little kids walking through the streets in fatigues with air rifles. I asked around and got directions to the church where they were located. I spoke with the kids and the founder of the program. It was a light-bulb moment in which I learned that journalism was an opportunity to live curiously all the time.
I had done some coverage of protests and other events, but this was the first time I was on my own. The complexity of the story was also a maturing moment for me as a journalist and activist. It was abhorrent to recruit kids, especially from a poor, predominantly people-of-color neighborhood like Bed-Stuy, who might someday fight in the Iraq War. But some adults saw it as a valuable after-school program that instilled self-discipline and respect for authority in the kids. It made me begin to understand and explore nuance in issues.
At the time I was shy and socially awkward. Journalism provided me a way of forgetting my self-consciousness. That article also taught me that people are eager to share their thoughts and stories. Here I was, a young white girl from the West Coast, wandering into a church in Bed-Stuy and asking about the youth program, and people were glad to talk to me.
When the story came out, I received lots of emails and comments about it, which was a first for me. I won some awards for the story and started thinking, “I can do this.” It felt like something I wanted to do for the rest of my life.
Sarah Stuteville is the co-founder and creative director of the Seattle Globalist, a daily online publication that covers the connections between local and global issues in Seattle and offers youth training programs for the next generation of media makers. She is also a columnist for the Seattle Times and teaches journalism at the University of Washington, where she won the 2015 Educator of the Year award from the Society of Professional Journalists Northwest.
Editor’s Note: It Takes Everyone to Build a Newspaper
By John Tarleton
Indy at 15: How to Build a Radical NYC Newspaper, in 15 Steps
By John Tarleton
Indy at 15: The Highlight Reel of Our Best Coverage
By Indypendent Staff
Indy at 15: Getting the Paper Started
By Ana Nogueria
Indy at 15: Covering 9/11
By Mike Burke
Indy at 15: Creating Space for Artists
By Frank Reynoso
Indy at 15: A Photojournalist Finds Her Calling
By Antrim Caskey
Indy at 15: Learning to Think Like a Journalist
By Jaisal Noor
Indy at 15: Happy Birthday
By Nicholas Powers