Nicole Winfield was a news reporter for The News-Letter from 1991 to 1992. She is now an Associated Press foreign correspondent based in Rome covering the Vatican in Italy.
The News-Letter: What did you work on while at The News-Letter? When did you graduate?
Nicole Winfield: I graduated in ’92, and I only worked at The News-Letter my senior year. So, it would have been the academic year ’91-92. There were editors — two news people editing — but I was just an assignment reporter. I was totally green and I don’t even know if I did that much. I was late to the game. But something stuck, you know.
N-L: What have you been doing since you graduated from Hopkins?
NW: So I graduated in ‘92, then literally after taking the summer off, began what became a string of temporary jobs within the Associated Press (AP). I’ve been with the AP ever since, coming onto 30 years.
N-L: Can you expand upon your evolution in jobs within the AP?
NW: You start out doing the mailroom, the lowest of the low. That’s what I did, grabbed what I could. My first job was at the graphics desk at the AP headquarters in the New Year. At the time it was a lot of monkey work: sending graphics to various clients but also some copy-editing of the text of the graphics.
That was my first job at AP. I did that — two stints of filling in for people for maternity or sick leave — until a temporary stint in the New York City bureau of the AP doing night broadcast. Night broadcast — at least within the AP — has always been the training ground for the greenest of the green reporters. Why? Because writing for broadcast is great training for speed, concise writing, cutting out all the fluff of clauses and unnecessary adjectives and getting to the point in a quick and colloquial manner. And so for a wire service, that is considered the best training to learn how to write wire-ready copy. I bounced a lot in the AP then finally got my first reporting job in Miami. That was the first time I was out of the broadcast, out of the technical monkey-work kind of work and into reporting.
N-L: So, cycling all the way back to The News-Letter. Do you remember any experiences while you were at the paper?
NW: It was eye-opening to me. I came into it late, and because I was not fully integrated into it, I was not part of the core team, but there was just something about it that was so attractive. I remember one night being in the Gatehouse, and seeing the paper being laid out and wishing that I had known about this years ago. I could have been doing this for four years, and I blew it. I was running track; it was my main extracurricular and so that took a lot of time. I didn’t really venture out much. It was a bittersweet feeling. I wish I had known before and I wish I had gotten integrated into the team earlier before it was too late. I would encourage freshmen to start out early — I’m sure it’s changed a lot, but putting out a school newspaper is always a great thing. It felt like a lost opportunity, but I’m glad I found it before I left.
N-L: How you were introduced to the paper?
NW: So my senior year, there was actually a higher level Writing Seminars course called Foreign Correspondence. It was strange, because it’s not like there was a journalism track. It was very much out of the blue, and I took it out of curiosity. I loved it, and that had a role in what I decided to do with my life. I’m pretty sure the professor then encouraged people to try their hand at The News-Letter. That was the tie-in.
N-L: You said your experiences with language helped you along the way. What were the other parts of university, or reporting from The News-Letter, that helped you with future jobs?
NW: I’m of the belief that you can’t learn journalism in the classroom. The more you learn, the better you get. You just need to get your foot in the door. An institution like The News-Letter gives you the opportunity to practice. You may make mistakes, but the risk factor is very low. You learn the basics, and so just that one year of reporting for a few articles plus the bigger picture and dream of what could be from this Foreign Correspondence class — that planted the seed. Learning new languages is also eye-opening; you're not only learning communications, but you’re knowing the culture of other countries. I then spent a year in Argentina, learning and living abroad in a country that you’re arriving in on your own. So,I can say with some assurance that that smattering of a constellation of experiences, in retrospect, was all pretty helpful. I only got my first reporting job because I speak Spanish. From day one at Hopkins, I learned Spanish. I got that reporting job because I could string sentences in a way that made sense. Hopkins allowed me the ability to follow my interests, and then it gave me The News-Letter to try my hand at this reporting thing. It was certainly not a planned trajectory, but it certainly worked out.
N-L: Do you have any other comments or reflections to add?
NW My overwhelming regret is not joining The News-Letter sooner. I would’ve gotten so much more out of the Hopkins experience if i had known to join my freshman year.