Making a difference in journalism

Monday, May 2, 2016

Editor's note: This is part of a series of profiles for spring 2016 commencement. See the rest here .

For Miguel Otárola, he discovered his calling as a reporter early in his freshman year at Arizona State University’s Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication.

Otárola, who is graduating this spring with a master’s in mass communication and a bachelor’s in journalism, said his freshman experiences interning at The Arizona Republic and reporting for the student-run Downtown Devil helped launch his passion for journalism.

“Having those experiences was something that put me on the path to go and report,” said Otárola, who is going to the Boston Globe for a three-month internship as a metro reporter after graduation.

Between freshman year and graduation, Otárola said he had some amazing experiences at the Cronkite School, including traveling to Nicaragua as a bilingual reporter for the Cronkite Southwest Borderlands Initiative project and covering Pope Francis’ visit to the border for Cronkite News, the student-produced news division of Arizona PBS.

Otárola, who was born in Antofagasta, Chile, and moved to Tucson, Arizona, in 2002, also served as editor-in-chief of the Downtown Devil, a metro reporting intern for the Seattle Times and a music columnist for the College Times.

Otárola said he is excited to start his journalism experience at the Boston Globe.

“It feels like you’re building on a new wave of reporters,” he said. “You feel like you’re going to one day achieve something great, and this is just the beginning of it.”

Otárola, who is receiving the ASU Alumni Association Outstanding Graduate Award, answered some questions about his experience at ASU.

Question: What’s something you learned while at ASU — in the classroom or otherwise — that surprised you, that changed your perspective?

Answer: The thing that changed my perspective the most is the classes where we learned that reporting is more than writing. It’s more than doing just one thing. Especially now, you have to know how to do a lot of things. I learned through (Cronkite professor) Tim McGuire’s 21st-century media class about the state of the business (of journalism) — where it’s at and exactly how you can go about and progress it and make it even better than it is today.

Q: Why did you choose ASU?

A: I chose ASU for a lot of reasons. I’ve been in Arizona a lot of my life, and I wanted to stay in Arizona. To have a journalism school that is as great as the Cronkite School be here, gives you reason to stay. I think this is a really great place to transition into the real world.

Q: What’s the best piece of advice you’d give to those still in school?

A: I have two. The first would be — don’t wait. Start doing something now, even if that means creating your own thing. The second would be to be very empathetic of the people you work with and the stories you listen to. Because ultimately, it’s not about you — it’s about the story and the people you’re trying to help.

Q: What was your favorite spot on campus, whether for studying, meeting friends or just thinking about life?

A: Whoa … I’m a huge fan of the third-floor edit bays (at the Cronkite School). I probably didn’t use them for the reasons they’re meant there to be, but I did like having a big screen and a place to work in and be able to listen to music.

Q: If someone gave you $40 million to solve one problem on our planet, what would you tackle?

A: Climate change. Climate change for sure. I got to do a lot of stories regarding sustainability and climate change, and my dad is a scientist himself, so it’s been a topic I think that definitely goes overlooked.