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Juleyka Lantigua-Williams Talks Journalism In The Ever Changing World And How To Adapt

Illustration by Ellen Nordlund

Ask A Journalist is a part of our Ask A Professional series where we ask real adults about their profession.

Who are you?

I am a Dominican-American journalist and editor with over 15 years of experience working in media as a writer, book editor, magazine editor, and many other roles.

Where have you been published?
My work has appeared in The Atlantic (where I currently work), Jet magazine, GIANT magazine, The Progressive magazine, and multiple national and regional newspapers including the Chicago Tribune, Miami Herald, Hartford Courant, Los Angeles Times, and Houston Chronicle.

Did you always know you wanted to be a journalist?

Not exactly. I always knew I wanted to work in writing and editing, but did not really phrase it as wanting to be a journalist. That realization came after college when I recognized that the most constant thing in my life was that I was drawn to words and people who wrote them and worked with them. So I went back to school for a graduate degree in journalism and started my career in New York City soon after.

Can you recall the toughest moment in your journalism career?

Twice the companies I worked for went under, laying off the entire team. Those were very tough situations to get through but both times turned out to be opportunities to consider and reaffirm if I was following the right path–and I was.

Best moment?
The best moment is always when an article gets published. It just still fills me with joy and pride (and some nerves). I think that’s part of the attraction to this work, that it becomes new with every new piece you finish.

Were your friends and family supportive of your choice to pursue journalism?

Very much. I am very blessed to have family and friends who believe in me and encourage me. For decades, my mother has stored every piece of writing I have ever published, and my friends share my work on social media all the time.

Did you major in journalism? Would you advise others to major in it?
I wish I had, but I think I did the next best thing by majoring in political science and Spanish Literature. Both majors helped me grow as a thinker and writer, which are the foundational elements of journalism. Yes, I would encourage those interested to learn the craft formally because there are formats, ethics, practices, and laws that apply to journalism that everyone should know.

How do you set yourself apart from other journalist cause it’s a competitive field?
That’s not something I think about, honestly. It would be overwhelming to get anything done if I compared my work to others. I try to write to my strengths, focusing on areas that naturally interest me but in which there’s a lot more to learn and explore. I also enjoy talking to people about their experiences when they reflect conflicts or concerns in these areas, so I try to wrap the issues around the experiences of those affected.

Is it a good time right now to be a journalist?
Yes and no. It’s a great time because knowledge across most fields doubles about every six months, thanks to ongoing research, scientific discoveries, and benchmarks in human development (like mapping the genome, landing on Mars, marriage equality). There’s no end to the ways people can cover our advancements and there seem to be new tools for doing so every year–think Instagram, Facebook Live. It’s a difficult time to be a journalist because the public’s trust has been eroded to some extent. Some of that has to do with the 24-hour news cycle which rewards fast news instead of slow-cooked narratives that are more complete and require deeper analysis. The other difficulty is the corporate imperative to draw large audiences while spending less and less. I’m hopeful that we will soon come to a workable middle ground between those two imperatives.

How do you remain financially stable in a career that is oversaturated?

Early on in my career I was very fortunate to develop key relationships with colleagues, and as we moved through our divergent career paths, we helped each other out–with freelance work, letters of recommendation, looking over proposals for grants, etc. Those connections helped me secure work when I needed it. I also endeavor to learn new skills with every new job, so that my tool kit is diverse enough. That has allowed me to move from writing/reporting to editing and recruiting writers, to being a syndicated columnist, and managing communications for a TEDx event.

Do you stay unbiased on subjects where you have a strong opinion?

I make sure the facts dictate the coverage, even if I have a strong opinion. I take the call to be fair in my reporting very seriously. I also have always trusted and respected my editors, who have an important role to play in helping me create stories that are accurate and free of bias.

How has technology affected journalism?
Depends on the technology. Smart phones have put a camera in everyone’s hands, which makes for countless viral videos but little context and analysis. That makes it difficult for journalists to try to tell a more complete story since people think the video clip tells the full story and make up their minds as soon as they’re done watching it. The internet has flattened time in a way, as breaking news anywhere in the world breaks at the same time everywhere in the world. So newsrooms are always chasing a story without fully understanding how it came to become a story even as they are reporting it. This, I think, has led to the proliferation of pundits and “talking heads,” people considered experts who come in as stories break to give analysis, but that’s not always a good idea since they can have agendas and prejudices that may not have been fully disclosed in the rush to get someone to comment on the breaking story. But the internet has also increased transparency and access to data in unprecedented ways. That is great for journalists and the public because we can include original sources in our work and anyone interested can dig deeper once they’ve read our coverage.

Where do you see journalism heading in the next 5-10 years?
I think the future is in audio because people continue to fill their lives with more activities while their appetite for information continues to grow. Podcasts are showing a lot of promise and creating niche but loyal audiences. To me, that signals compartmentalizing of news based on particular tastes and affinities in the audience.

Share your favorite article you have ever written.

I can’t really choose one. But my most recent work can be found here.

Any advice for young journalist?

Read three times as much as you write, it’s the fuel that charges your imagination and analytical engine.

Find out more about Juley here and follow her on Twitter

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Evelyn V. Woodsen
Written By

Evelyn Atieno is a sometimes journalist who enjoys binge watching Gossip Girl every other month. She has been featured in MTV,Business Insider, Huffington Post and The Baltimore Sun

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