Alex Brown ‘19 on Writing and the Future of Journalism

Recently, I had the opportunity to sit down with Alex Brown '19, an English-Creative writing major and aspiring writer.  As we are two of the few Agnes students interested in journalism, Alex joked to me that me interviewing her is akin to the episodes in Season 5 of Grey’s Anatomy in which the interns have to resort to practicing stitches and medical procedures on one another because they aren’t learning it on the hospital floor. While I didn’t choose to interview Alex because of a desperate need for interview subjects (I chose her because she’s a bad-ass Scottie journalist), it is true that Agnes is lacking in journalism classes or support programs, leaving students like Alex and myself to lean on one another and to seek out outside resources to continue the journey of self-taught journalism.

In our conversation, I was able to get Alex’s thoughts on the state of journalism today, her own writer’s aspirations, and what she’s been reading. So here’s Alex Brown ‘19 on all those things and a little bit more.

 

 

On Writing…

While she always knew she was sure of her decision to be an English major, Alex began her creative writing efforts at Agnes in fiction, but quickly came to realize that nonfiction writing would be her real focus. “I just find writing nonfiction stories so much more interesting and can do so much more with them,” she told me.  

“I like to write about people’s lives, especially people who don't usually have their stories told. It's kind of weird because when I look at my portfolio it’s just a bunch of buzzwords like “Muslim”, “pagan”, “nonbinary”, “gay”…. It’s not like I'm trying to hit a checklist or anything but I just like to talk to people who have really interesting lives and are in the margins of stuff. I don't really feel like I have a focus right now.” In her time writing for Her Campus, Alex’s articles have included articles such as “Jordan Keesler ‘20 Talks Paganism and Nonbinary Identity” and “Navigating Psychic Pain in a Digital Age, My Volunteer Work as a Crisis Counselor,” staying true to her conviction to write about topics that deserve more media attention and to feature the voices of compelling people.

While her post-graduation plans undoubtedly include writing, she’s not yet sure which route her work will take her. “Every other week I switch from wanting to get an MFA and wanting to get a journalism job. Literally, it depends on the day. I found this program at NYU that specifically combines journalistic writing with creative nonfiction and I was like, Oh my God. But it’s only partially funded. Like, would I go into debt for this? Yeah, probably.”

In true journalistic tradition, Alex has a list of story ideas that she hopes to pursue when she’s not browsing the tempting rabbit hole of MFA programs. She is currently working to make one of these ideas a reality, having compiled interviews and research for an opinion piece on the need for an LGBT youth center in her teenage home of Redlands, CA. “There’s really no queer-purposed things in Redlands or the Inland-Empire area - which is the surrounding area - really at all,” she explains. “If you google it, all the websites haven’t been updated since like 2009 and they’re really unhelpful.”

Since the focus of the article directly addresses the Redlands area, it’s only fitting that Alex will pitch it to one of the local newspapers that she and her neighbors grew up reading. The Redlands Daily Facts, in addition to producing significant local news content, also finds its quirky voice in wide-ranging articles that Alex hopes to have her article published alongside. “They run all sorts of cool articles about like what the Redlands Tea Party is up to and one that was like ‘Dear millennials, communism isn’t cool’ with a picture of a Che Guevara t-shirt for the header image, and then it’s like ‘10 persimmon recipes.’” As I’m writing this, the top-trending article of RDF is “Deputies pull over - yes, pull over - 2 hot air balloons flying close to rooftops in Yucaipa neighborhood.”

“I have ideas for a lot of different things but I have to make sure I'm just working on like one thing at a time otherwise I'll never get anything done,” she says in regards to her biggest challenge as a writer. “Or, like, having an idea for something, but not knowing how to flesh it out into a whole essay. I've been thinking about writing about how Harry Potter is just everywhere. Especially in this school, it’s assumed that everyone likes Harry Potter. And I do like Harry Potter, but the over-saturation of it is making me want to never see it ever again in my life.”

While she’d be perfectly happy if she never heard another mention of Harry Potter in her presence, Alex believes there should be more writing which focuses on chronic and physical health issues. “I feel like there’s a lot of focus on how mentally ill people are treated in society and healthcare,” she says. “There’s a lot of personal essays and stuff about mental health, but there’s less so about physical health and how chronically ill people are treated in the industry.”

 

On reading material…

Alex keeps up with all of her favorite writer's and publications on Twitter, which has become the primary way that writers are sharing their work to their audiences. Her unofficial Twitter list includes nonfiction writers Rachel Syme, Arabelle Sicardi, Anthony Oliveira, Roxane Gay, Lauren Duca, and Tyler Ford, and her favorite publications of the past and present include Catapult, The Online, Splinter, The Toast, Autostraddle, and McSweeney’s. Alex’s reading has strayed away from books and her time is consumed by essays, “just so many essays.”  

 

On the industry...

As nearly every major (and minor, for that matter) news publication has been accused of being “fake news” and distrust of the media is on the rise, it may seem to some that the future of the media industry is getting rockier by the day. Aside from the increasingly hostile environment for journalists, publications are also struggling to survive. Just last month, the beloved blog The Awl announced that it would cease publication at the end of January, creating a stirring reaction among readers and writers alike. Even Atlanta’s own alternative mag Creative Loafing has experienced drastic cutbacks on staff, also making the choice to switch from weekly to monthly.

In response to these events, Alex is unsure of how she feels about the future of journalism.

“I have no idea,” she said when I asked her how she thought the future of journalism is looking for people our age. “A lot of the time I just kind of wish that I was this age but in like 2008. I know the recession was bad and everything, but every time I see writers I admire, they usually got started in New York city in like 2008. Maybe I’m not experienced enough to predict where things are going. I've been trying to find new websites that are cool and are doing things I admire and am trying to support them.”

I asked Alex what her fears are about entering the media industry. As she answered, her face dropped a little and she became very serious for the first time during the interview. “Just kind of like the idea of the industry dying and also the fact that Trump is convincing the large part of his base that the media is not to be trusted and that everything is fake and that anything you don’t like is fake news, when there is actual fake news out there in the world that also isn’t being addressed.”

These concerns didn’t stop her from brightening up again once she started to explain what she is the most excited for, though. “I just want to help tell people’s stories and learn about things, and the cheesy, stereotypical being in search of the truth. And I love improving my writing around other writers. Yeah. Just being writerly.”

You can check out Alex’s work here. You can also catch her creative fingerprints all over our social media pages, which she manages as Social Media Director for Her Campus.