Jennifer Medina is a reporter for The New York Times. Before moderating a panel discussion entitled “What Does Trump Mean for Immigrant L.A.?” for a Zócalo/The California Wellness Foundation event at the National Center for the Preservation of Democracy in Little Tokyo in downtown Los Angeles, she spoke in the green room about entry-level journalism, Sandra Cisneros, and swimming in Riverside.
What’s the question you get asked most by young aspiring journalists, and what do you tell them?
“What should I do to become a reporter?” And I pretty much still say the same thing, even though our profession has changed dramatically in the 20 years I’ve been doing it. I still pretty much say, “Read the newspaper and start doing journalism. Just get as much experience as you can. Write for your high school paper, write for your college paper, write for a blog. Just write and ask questions.”
How did you get started?
We did not have a high school newspaper during my freshman year, and a group of kids who were then seniors started it, along with this teacher. And they needed younger reporters, and I was in that teacher’s sophomore English class, and she asked me if I wanted to write an opinion piece. And writing an op-ed was my first chance in journalism, and I loved it.
Where is your family from?
Both my parents are from Panama.
Was there a teacher or professor who really influenced you?
My high school journalism teacher, Barbara Maguire. She taught me how to be a reporter, she introduced me to philosophy. I don’t remember having heard, or understand, what the term “philosophy” meant, before her. She used to give me her old philosophy textbooks and completely got me started on my path to journalism.
Where and when did you learn to swim?
Riverside, where I grew up, in the community pool. Probably when I was three.
Do you play a musical instrument?
I played the clarinet in elementary school. I would love to be able to play the guitar or drums. I have very little musical intrinsic talent.
Do you remember why you chose the clarinet?
It seemed cooler than the big brass instruments and not as girlie as the flute. That’s not a very PC way of putting it, but that’s what I thought when I was eight.
Do you have a favorite 20th- or 21st-century American author?
The first one that came to mind is Sandra Cisneros, but I could name many, many others. She was the first author I read whose characters sounded like people in my life. She’s very evocative and accessible.
What’s hanging on your living room walls?
A painting that my husband has from West Africa—of the cycle of life, as viewed from an indigenous perspective—and bookshelves and pictures from my kids.
What’s the best advice you ever got?
Fake it 'til you make it.