Nora Lopez provides budding journalists advice from a career spanning intern to editor.
By Courtney Kaiser
Nora Lopez has been meeting deadlines since she was a sophomore in high school.
Lopez, metro editor of the San Antonio Express-News, spoke to more than 20 journalism students at this college Oct. 9 in Loftin Student Center.
She encouraged them to be bold, curious and to bring as much to the table as possible.
“I hope that someday I can end my career being a beat reporter because it’s so fun,” Lopez said.
Born in Mexico, Lopez and her family moved to the U.S. when she was only 2 months old. She grew up in the Rio Grande Valley, worked on her high school newspaper and went on to Pan American University in Edinburg.
“I graduated the year before it became a part of the University of Texas system,” Lopez said.
“I had intended to go there for a couple of years, and then transfer to the University of Texas at Austin, but I don’t know when that got derailed.”
Lopez said, “I don’t have any regrets though; there’s a lot of value in being a bigger fish in a smaller pond.”
Lopez’s career in journalism includes 14 years as a reporter and 14 years as an editor.
The Express-News originally hired her in 1987 as part of a one-year post-graduate intern program.
“They were in trouble for having a lack of minorities in the newsroom so they used the program as a pipeline,” Lopez said. “It was sink or swim for us as interns.”
Knowing she needed to get her foot in the door, she covered stories that were familiar to her, such as news in the valley.
The newspaper offered her a full-time job 10 months into the internship.
“My star really rose kind of quickly,” Lopez said. “But it’s a lot of up and down.”
Lopez said her career in journalism took a lot of work.
“I was really lucky because I got a lot of opportunities, and I also created a lot of opportunities for myself,” Lopez said.
Reporters who want to excel must put themselves out there, she said.
After a stint in feature writing that Lopez didn’t find a good fit, she started working at the San Antonio Light where she was a nighttime crime and police beat reporter.
“It was a very fun time for me in my career,” Lopez said. “It was such authentic journalism. We knew we were the underdog to the Express-News, and because of that I think we were just fearless.”
With the dissolution of the San Antonio Light in 1992, Lopez moved to Dallas where she landed a job with The Dallas Morning News in an unfamiliar beat, education.
“I was lucky to land on that beat when there was a lot going on,” Lopez said. “I was there when there was a lot of tension between Latinos and blacks.”
Lopez said it boiled down to a conflict regarding the lack of diversity in high-ranking positions.
Lopez attended one meeting where those tensions boiled over.
“About 10 minutes into the meeting the Black Panthers came in, the meeting was dissolved and people were arrested. It was like being back on the crime beat,” Lopez said.
Lopez said her time on staff there was the biggest part of her career. The Dallas Morning News even submitted her work for a Pulitzer Prize.
“I didn’t get a nomination, but it meant so much that the paper had submitted my work and thought it was that good,” Lopez said.
After a few years Lopez wanted to be closer to family and made the jump back to San Antonio and the Express-News.
At the same time, Lopez also transitioned from reporter to editor.
“It is a hard, hard, hard, hard, hard transition,” Lopez said. “But you adapt and you learn.”
As an editor, Lopez has witnessed a lot of changes in the newsroom.
“We are down to a staff of about 30 writers, from a larger number of 70-80,” Lopez said.
A lot of that stems from journalism being a business at the end of the day.
“You kind of have to come to grips with that,” Lopez said.
Other changes include getting news to readers in different platforms, such as the mySA and Express-News Premium websites and social media. Lopez added her mindset is more production based now in selecting and assigning stories and completing managerial tasks than it was when she was a reporter.
“We do know at some point we are going to be digital,” Lopez said.
The younger generation should capitalize on their knowledge of the Internet and social media, she said.
“Start accumulating your résumé now so you can show potential employers you are capable of presenting ideas in new and exciting ways,” Lopez said. “Make sure you are up to date on social media and can show things you are already doing well.”
Lopez said aspiring journalists must do more than just present writing samples now.
At the end of the day, though, it still comes down to the fundamentals.
“It’s really about being inquisitive and recognizing human interest,” Lopez said. “Talk to as many people as you can around you.”
Irene Abrego, who teaches journalism here and advises The Ranger, said Lopez was an ideal speaker for both National Newspaper Week and Hispanic Heritage Month.
“It does tie in, and Nora is a very good example,” Abrego said. “She’s achieved a lot in her career.”