This feature is part of an occasional series showcasing alumni of the Chips Quinn Scholars Program. The features were prepared by Chipsters in the 2019 class, who were asked to talk with an alum of their choosing. The following piece has been lightly edited for clarity and brevity.
Q&A: Kellie Hwang
by Ava Garcia
Kellie Hwang, a reporter at The Indianapolis Star, covers trending news for the Now team, along with the transportation beat. She previously spent over a decade working as a features reporter at The Arizona Republic. I reached out to her last summer while I interned on the features desk in Phoenix. By then, the University of Washington graduate, who participated in the Chips Quinn program in 2007, had moved to the Indy Star, with the goals of exploring a new beat and expanding her journalism skills.
I was intrigued by Hwang’s switch to a different beat and style of reporting. I asked her about her journey as a reporter so far and how she’s transitioned to covering a new angle of a new city.
What inspired you to be a journalist?
Hwang: I’ve always loved writing but originally went to school for business. I didn’t enjoy most of the classes and found that the English classes and any one where I got to write piqued my interest the most. I decided to start writing for the school paper and loved it. Being able to combine my passion for writing, and getting out to meet new people and learn new things, was invigorating. There was a small journalism program at the University of Washington, and (I) decided to switch majors.
What was your first real reporting job and how did you get it?
I was hired into the features department during an internship at The Arizona Republic. I had expressed interest in entertainment reporting during my internship, so the editor in the department asked if I wanted to interview for an editorial assistant job. Not long after starting that job I began to do some reporting here and there, and it slowly became a full-time position, focused on covering nightlife and events.
You have moved from entertainment journalism to covering transportation and trending news. Why did you switch beats, and was it difficult to transition to a different style of reporting?
I covered almost all topics in the features department and was looking for a change, and the opportunity to expand my skill set and do things I never considered trying in the past. My first week at the Indy Star, I was trained in breaking news and shadowed the reporters, learning how to listen to the scanner, search for court documents and get to know the PIOs at the different agencies. It was challenging at first to write more newsy stories, but I had most of the fundamentals already from my years as a features reporter. I just need to think a little differently and also think and act more quickly to get the news posted.
How do you manage juggling different stories and beats?
If it’s a new topic, I try to do a little research, or ask someone in the newsroom who is well-versed in the topic to give me a quick rundown. Then I think about what the reader wants to know and how to write it in a way they will understand. I also try to stay organized by scheduling out my stories, keeping folders on different topics, creating outlines right after I report and pulling out the most important pieces of information right away.
What is your favorite story you have worked on?
One of my favorite pieces was a story I wrote about Thanksgiving traditions of other cultures here Indianapolis. I spent the day before Thanksgiving wandering our international grocery store and got to talk to and learn traditions of Filipino, Liberian and Puerto Rican residents. I also got to share my own family and culture’s traditions, so it allowed me to get personal and open myself up to our audience.
What is something you wish you had known as you started your journalism career?
I wish I had gone through a more robust journalism program, had I known I was going to follow this career. It is so helpful for any type of journalist, especially these days, to know many different skills because you don’t know what you will be the doing the next day. You could be covering breaking news, out at an event and need to do a quick stand-up video and edit it quickly to post to social media, or taking the lead in investigating a major agency.
What’s the best part of being a journalist?
The thrill that your story—whether a simple informational story about an interstate closure or a deeper dive story into the challenges of a new mass transit system—made a difference in the community. I love when readers reach out and share how your story helped them, gave them a new perspective or inspired them to take action.
What effect did your Chips Quinn internship have on your future in journalism?
My internship directly led me to my long career at The Arizona Republic, where I had the chance to write and report about topics I love. The internship itself was more news-focused, and I feel like I did a full circle coming back to news again and realizing that I can also enjoy writing about other things that are important to the community. My Chips Quinn internship taught me to get to know people in the community, to learn how to pivot quickly and be open-minded to change, because that is what you have to do to continue to stay successful in journalism. Most importantly, it taught me the importance of what we do. The press is a fundamental institution, and it needs people who are passionate and who care about informing, inspiring and empowering our readers.
Ava Garcia (2019) graduated in May with a master’s degree in journalism from the University of Arizona, and was a features reporter last summer at The Arizona Republic. She is an English language assistant in Madrid and plans to start a travel blog.