Journalism graduate charts unique career path through digital media | Nebraska today
Editor’s Note – This is part of a series of conversations highlighting outstanding Husker alumni on the University of Nebraska-Lincoln Medium page. This week meet Mekita Rivas, a journalism graduate who through hard work, persistence, skills and a little luck has carved out a place for herself in digital media, editing and writing for publications like Cosmopolitan, The New York Times and Bustle.
When did you first become interested in journalism?
My interest in journalism is really an extension of my interest in storytelling. I have been journaling since I was five years old and have always considered myself to be a storyteller first and foremost. I filled notebooks, writing poems and short stories. I loved creating characters and plots. I was a shy and introverted kid, but it was my imagination that kept me entertained. I grew up watching network news with my parents, and that’s when I started to make the connection between journalism and storytelling, and how they are one.
Talk a bit about your professional background.
My first job out of college was on the local TV news, and I soon found out that it wasn’t for me. I thought I was going to take the “traditional” path of writing, but I entered the workforce at a unique time in journalism. The landscape was rapidly moving away from old-school mediums like print and broadcast. Digital was becoming the dominant force, but few were prepared for the importance and the upheaval of this change. So I quit the media because I just didn’t see a place for myself. For about three years, I worked as an in-house writer and editor in the higher education and nonprofit space. In 2016 I started freelance writing as a side activity with no clue of how to become a freelance writer. I was cold tossing posts and literally hoping someone would read my work out of the slush pile. Finally, I got my chance when a Bustle editor published one of my personal essays. One signing led to another – and one publication led to another – and here I am five years later with an entire career as a writer.
Are there any specific stories / topics that you are passionate about?
I mainly cover culture and style, with a bit of wellness, lifestyle, food and wine and politics. Although I have carved out a place for myself in the media landscape as a fashion journalist, I truly consider myself a generalist. What I love most about this job is being able to write about so many different topics and having the freedom to pursue stories that really interest and fascinate me. What is most important to me is that I have the opportunity to examine these questions and topics through the prism of gender and race, especially as a multicultural woman of color myself.
You recently tweeted about becoming the writer you always wanted to be and getting paid to do it! Can you tell us a bit about this trip?
I touched on this topic above, but what I will add is that the number one lesson I learned on this trip is that most of the time your biggest obstacle is yourself. and you embarrass. For years, I convinced myself that no one cared about my voice or my point of view. Now I have a whole portfolio that proves the opposite. I remember when I made the decision to start freelance work, my main goal was just to have no regrets. I didn’t want to look back a few years or decades and ask myself, “What if I gave it a go? Even if I hadn’t ended up being successful as a freelance writer, at least I could have said I tried and gave it my all. This has always been my main motivation.
Do you have a favorite story you wrote?
It’s really hard to choose! Honestly, I have had the chance to work on some amazing stories. One of my more recent favorites is a feature article I wrote for Wine Enthusiast, which explores the history of wine’s healing properties. I just had fun reporting it and learned a lot from the sources I spoke to. Plus, it was for the print magazine, and although I’m a digital native writing primarily for an online audience, I grew up with print, so it still holds a very special place in my heart.
Is there something you learned while in Nebraska that you took with you and continue to use every day?
Nebraska is where I learned to journalistically tell a story. This is where I learned the structure of a good story, all the styling elements and the importance of asking the right questions. This is where I honed my rough storytelling skills and turned it into something that could actually help me launch and establish a career in journalism. Without journalism school and my experience as a journalist and columnist for the Daily Nebraskan, I don’t know if I would have landed on this path.
Is there anyone in Nebraska who has had a big impact on you?
My English and Ethnic Studies teacher Joy Castro was instrumental in my time in Nebraska. I took two of his classes as an undergraduate and would have taken all of his classes if I could. She was the first teacher who really saw me as more than a student. She saw me as a young writer of color who had a voice but didn’t quite know how to use it. Her classes enlightened me a lot, both on my writing skills but also on my personal history as a first generation multicultural woman.
What advice would you give to a student interested in journalism, or, by referencing your tweet, to someone looking to accomplish something they’ve always wanted to accomplish?
Get out of your own way. And always prepare for success by being able to show what you are capable of. This means that you need a website showcasing your work. You need some presence online and in the world you want to be in. One of my big breaks came when I got hired at Teen Vogue as a fashion news editor. I will never forget that when I first met my IRL editor, she told me that she had chosen my application at random. But visiting my website and reading my work is what really sold her and got her to contact me. The lesson here is that even though I was lucky on my end, if I had nothing to show when I was finally presented with the opportunity, it wouldn’t have mattered anyway. Luck can help you get your foot in the door, but talent and hard work will help.