Illustration by Ellen Ellen Nordlund
Ask A Journalist is apart of our Ask A Professional series where we ask real adults about their profession.
Jack Qu’emi Gutiérrez is a journalist and their pronouns are they/them/theirs.
Did you always know you wanted to be a journalist?
Not at all. I hated writing in school and was always pretty convinced I didn’t have a talent. My sister has known from a very young age that she wanted to be an artist and showed talent pretty much out of the womb.
Can you recall the toughest moment in your journalism career?
I’ve been writing for a few years now and I’ve been mainly freelance during that time. I think the lack of consistent paycheck has been the worst aspect of writing and having to choose between a “day job” to pay the bills or doing what I really love.
This past year I started doing speaking engagements at universities. I was really floored by the reactions I got from students that were familiar with my work and how genuinely excited they were to meet me. I don’t think very many of them have had the opportunity to see a nonbinary person of color doing this kind of work professionally before. I try very hard to make my work accessible and impactful- I think it wasn’t until coming face-to-face with readers that I felt I was making a difference.
Were your friends and family supportive of your choice to pursue journalism?
My family is happy as long as I’m happy. I’m under the impression the only real worry they have is that I make enough money to eat.
Did you major in journalism? Would you advise others to major in it?
I majored in Interdisciplinary Studies in college. I think pursuing a journalism degree depends on what kind of writing or reporting you are trying to get into and what the program at your university of choice is like. That’s a very personal choice and I would never presume to tell anyone what will work for them. I do think it’s important to know that you don’t HAVE to major in journalism in order to pursue writing. I didn’t and somehow I ended up on NPR.
How do you set yourself apart from other journalist cause it’s a competitive field?
My pieces focus on an intersectional approach to whatever topic I’m discussing. I have an academic background, for sure, but what sets me apart is my lived experience.
Everything I do aims to educate in the most accessible way I can manage.
Plus, I’ve never been one for needlessly heavy jargon. I don’t want to alienate anyone.
Is it a good time right now to be a journalist?
Oh yeah, especially now. It’s so important that reporters, op-ed writers, essayists, everyone really put their work out there. Donald Trump is going to be our next president- that’s terrifying. That kind of narrow-minded suppression of otherness needs to be combated with the uplifting of marginalized voices. We need to be heard now more than ever.
How do you remain financially stable in a career that is oversaturated?
Uh… I don’t. I just recently got a part time gig with a well known online magazine and that has been the most steady work I’ve had since I started. I always work a “day job” in order to pay the bills which more often than not ends up tiring me out and inhibiting my ability to chase down freelance writing work. I work really hard for the little bit I have, and I’m not really interested in being rich or famous for myself. Personally, I’m more interested in stability. I wouldn’t be where I am without a bunch of amazing friends within and outside of the writing game. I’ve had people lend me money so I can pay rent and others help me with pitches or finding work. Some friends have even recommended me to publications that I wouldn’t otherwise have known to pitch to. I highly encourage making friends in the community and making sure you have some kind of backup plan.
Do you stay unbiased on subjects where you have a strong opinion?
Not at all. My whole schtick is being almost obnoxiously opinionated. That’s where my best work comes from!
How has technology affected journalism?
In a lot of ways for the better. While print work still pays better, being able to work from home/remotely as someone with chronic fatigue is vital. The Internet has provided me with nationwide exposure I could have never gotten on my own. Don’t get me wrong, a lot of online abuse comes along with it purely because of the person I am and my work’s subject matter, but I couldn’t tell you how many messages I get from people all over the country telling me something I typed out at 3am about identity helped them get through a hard time. That makes all of this worth it.
Where do you see journalism heading in the next 5-10 years?
I’m not sure. I worry about the death of print media all the time. I think it’s still important; still relevant. I’d hate to see that completely disappear. I’m kind of hoping there will evolve a more efficient accountability process for paying writers- especially freelance. I should not be busting my behind to have work ready on a deadline and then still not have my check a month later.
Share your favorite article you have ever wrote
I’ve particularly enjoyed writing for Black Girl Dangerous. There are some really great people over there. The first thing I ever wrote for them was a bit critiquing some articles I saw talking about Jaden Smith’s gender presentation. I think that’s gotta be my favorite so far.
Any advice for young journalist?
If you really want this, keep trying. You’re going to get a lot of rejection (A LOT OF REJECTION, TRUST ME), but that doesn’t mean it isn’t worth it. It’s going to be difficult and you’re going to feel like you the Universe is playing a sick game with you. But when you finally see that something you needed to get out of you and onto a Word document not only got you published, but PAID… not to mention the impact of your words on other people… that feeling is addictive. It makes it all so very worth it. If you really love this it’s worth it. And don’t forget to make friends. When you get a foothold in somewhere make sure you reach back and help another writer that’s struggling. Don’t forget where you came from.