by Alex Mika ’21 (CLAS)
As an undergraduate English major, Ali Oshinskie started her own podcast, Professors are People Too, to teach herself the fundamentals of radio journalism. It was in this process of interviewing faculty members, crafting narratives, and sharing experiences that she decided to pursue a career in journalism. She graduated from UConn in 2017, and currently works with Connecticut Public Radio and Report for America as a reporter for the Naugatuck River Valley region.
Alex Mika: In 2016, you started a podcast, Professors Are People Too. What inspired you to create this project?
Ali Oshinskie: I started that podcast because I had applied for an internship at Connecticut Public Radio, and I didn’t get it. I was really disappointed. And then I thought, “In the real world, not everything is going to be taught to me. So, I’m going to try to teach myself.” I wanted to make a podcast, so I came up with this idea based on something that I really enjoyed as a student: going to office hours and understanding more about what I was learning by talking directly with the professor. I figured out how to use a recorder and a mic, used the student radio station WHUS, and taught myself through YouTube videos. I also had a really great support network. When I got into radio, I got that internship the second time I applied. That was where I started really loving journalism.
AM: How did your experiences as an English major prepare you for journalism?
AO: I think as an English major, you’re taught a lot about how to make an argument. And as a journalist, you’re taught how to understand arguments and juxtapose them with facts. You need to create a path of truth in all the noise. I built on what I learned in the major by doing a bunch of internships, fellowships, and independent freelance work. And now, I’m a reporter.
AM: Recently, you began working for Report for America. How did you discover this opportunity?
AO: I had heard about it around the time that Trump got elected. There had been this push to have more active reporting in smaller, rural, ignored communities. They started with a couple of reporters in West Virginia, and then they kept growing. I initially thought it would be out of reach for me, and I didn’t think I was qualified enough. Through doing fellowships and internships, I became more experienced. Meanwhile, they grew to a point where there were positions in Connecticut.
I’m from Connecticut: I went to college here and have lived here most of my life. I feel strongly about reporting on the community I’m from. It’s a different sense of purpose for me, because I don’t think I fully understand my community and I don’t think I ever really will. There are so many stereotypes and ideas about Connecticut, and what I love about my job is that every day, those stereotypes are challenged. This experience has helped me, and hopefully, others, understand more about the state.
AM: How does the program work?
AO: Report for America funds reporter positions at newsrooms around the country. They provide half the initial funding necessary for the positions. In subsequent years, they provide some of the funding, while the newsroom takes on more of the cost until they can hire me fully. They also offer a lot of training opportunities. Their mission is really to get journalists into communities where journalism and local accountability has been waning over the last 15 years. I’m really grateful for it as a young reporter because the bar is really high to get entry level jobs.
AM: How has COVID affected the way you practice journalism?
AO: It’ll be no surprise to say that it’s made it harder. On the good side, a lot of municipal meetings are online now. There was a governor’s executive order to put all meetings and materials online, and that has increased access so much for folks who couldn’t take off work, get childcare, and leave the house for four hours to go and wait for the public comment period. It has made democracy much more equitable in that regard. I cover a region, so I can be in four different Zoom meetings a day without having to drive to all those places. That said, I can’t wait to get out there a little bit more and cover events in person and really be in the community. I like talking to people, and that’s a lot of what journalism is about. It’s tough being in my bedroom twenty hours a day working, eating, sleeping.
AM: What have been some of the ways in which you’ve adapted to this new working-from-home environment?
AO: One of my saving graces from this past winter has been going on walks with friends in the morning. My days as a journalist are busier in the evenings and afternoons, so I can take the mornings a little easier. I’m a social person, so getting out of the house for walks has been really helpful.
I’m also slowly getting better at estimating how much time something’s going to take. As a young professional, you don’t always have that nine-to-five mentality, so it’s particularly hard to protect against burnout in this scenario. Right now, it often feels like I’m never fully working, but I’m also never fully not working. It’s really important to have something you do that makes you feel good and isn’t related to your productivity or your economic market value. I like gardening and seeing my friends, and when I was right out of college, I would do a lot of babysitting because I loved kids. You just have to remind yourself that your value goes beyond your role and your job.
Ali Oshinskie is the Naugatuck River Valley reporter with Connecticut Public Radio and Report for America. Her work has appeared on NPR, Marketplace, and The Hartford Courant. After graduating UConn with an English degree in 2017, she worked her way through a patchwork of internships and fellowships until she landed her dream job (although she does not dream of labor). Ali has tried to live a balanced life during this pandemic by going on bike rides, growing vegetables, and taking morning walks with friends.