Unlike many early career journalists, I never heard the obnoxious key clicks from neighboring reporters or the laughter from inside jokes that echoed across the newsroom. The fragrant smell of Five Star Pizza or the cranked volume of song classics was not a reality I knew.
I had joined The Alligator Summer 2020 as a transfer student, about four months after the onset of the pandemic. As a digital news assistant, I reported remotely from my Miami home, and my interactions consisted strictly of text and video calls over Zoom. It wasn’t until I became a features and investigations editor in January that I began to feel the sense of community that a true newsroom fosters. I began to see The Alligator as a second home.
It’s worth acknowledging that I didn’t envision myself as a newspaper gal. Growing up, I hoarded Teen Vogue magazines in my dresser and other beauty and fashion papers my mom snagged from the hair salon. During my early years in undergrad, I wrote and edited for student-run publications like HerCampus and Rowdy Magazine. These papers ignited the fire for arts and style that still flare inside me, but I craved more. I desired to produce pieces that uplifted marginalized communities. Too often are Black and Brown faces presented in mugshots and tied to violence, and I dreamt of changing that narrative.
As a general assignment reporter Fall 2020, I had an opportunity to do just that. I authored a piece that spoke to Black UF professors, students and alumni who after experiencing hair discrimination, further embraced their curly textures. I spoke with close friends and former students of the late Patricia Hilliard-Nunn who served as a social justice warrior and an integral part of the Black UF experience. I interviewed community organizer and powerhouse Faye Williams, who has worked relentlessly to remove symbols of hatred in Gainesville.
But I would be lying if I said my path didn’t have hiccups.
Clumsy misspellings and attribution errors haunted me. After volunteering to cover my first live virtual event, I struggled to identify quotes or pinpoint a strong lede. Thirty minutes turned to an hour and my page remained blank. The incessant texts from my editor and unshakeable disappointment I felt pushed me to the brink of leaving The Alligator for good. But through the encouragement of fellow Alligator staffers, I didn’t quit.
After a one year hiatus from the newsroom and a couple internships under my belt, I listened to calls to reapply. I had the honor of spearheading the first Black History Month package, “Living History,” as the features and investigations editor, recounting stories of Porters Quarters gentrification to the first Black Gainesville mayor.
The girl who never envisioned herself working for a newspaper found solace in the impactful stories published and the lifelong friends she made along the way. I still cherish the moment I stepped foot into the Alligator office, a cramped hallway-sized room with comma puns and newspaper clippings stapled to the wall. I smile reminiscing on the way-too-long phone calls spent writing and rewriting stories with reporters. Beyond the stories and The Alligator office, my three semesters here although short-lived — have been remarkable and cemented the foundation for the journalist I’ve always aspired to be.
Kalia Richardson is a senior journalism major. She is a lifelong Alligator and was the Features and Investigations Editor.