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Indy at 15: ‘I Had Zero Experience’

Sarah Stuteville Oct 8

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.


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