Former journalism student shares his journey

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Joseph M. de Leon, former Ranger reporter and digital nomad, presents journalism advice and describes his upcoming road trip to The Ranger staff Feb. 3 in Loftin. De Leon will document and write about traveling in an RV from Austin to Olympic National Forest, Washington. Follow his trip at w2wwg.blogspot.com. Photo by Deandra Gonzalez

‘Digital nomad’ describes newspaper experience and plans for full-time RV life.

By Elena Longoria

sac-ranger@alamo.edu

Students should get outside their comfort zones to learn, grow and gain confidence, a newspaper journalist and former Ranger reporter said Feb. 3 at this college.

Joseph de Leon spoke to about 40 Ranger reporters, editors, photographers and advisers during the student newspaper’s regular staff meeting in room 209 of Loftin Student Center.

He recalled traveling with six other journalism students to the Gulf Coast four months after Hurricane Katrina struck. De Leon said he had a lot of fear going on the trip because of all the footage he had seen on TV.

“Going on this trip really changed my mind about myself, really. It showed me that I could really interview anyone,” de Leon said.

Up to that point, he had only been assigned stories on campus, and in a way he felt students were obligated to answer his questions. Going into the areas affected by Katrina, he knew reporting on the hurricane and speaking to the people affected was going to be tougher than he had ever experienced.

“Going to a place where somebody just lost family members and they’ve lost all of their possessions and they are in a state of emotional trauma, it was such a mind-blowing experience to be with them and then ask them to please share their stories,’’ he said.

De Leon told the Ranger audience he wanted to share his experience and thoughts on journalism, travel, the search for a good story and his plans to embark on full-time RV life and blogging.

“It’s been a really amazing experience for me, and what I am hoping to do is, through the story, give you 10 takeaways that I hope will help you on your journey,” he said.

A San Antonio native, he grew up on the Westside and graduated from South San Antonio High School West Campus.

He originally attended this college in 1992 to study radio, television and broadcasting. But de Leon said he was not ready for school and dropped out.

He started working and taught himself graphics and web design.

He got married and then divorced.

“Suddenly I am 30 years old without really much of a plan for what I want to do for the future,” de Leon said.

In 2004 he started college once again at this campus, where he took a writing class.

“Took a writing course just for fun and really was surprised on how much I enjoyed it, so I joined The Ranger,” he said.

Before finishing journalism at this campus in 2006, he moved to New York City for an internship at New York University for the Dow Jones News Fund. Here he learned one of his takeaways: “It can’t be all work.”

His first reporting job was at The Frederick News-Post in Maryland where he was the first Latino to work in the newsroom, and he also spoke Spanish. This gave him many opportunities to write stories about the Latino community there.   

He then started working as a business reporter and joined the Society of American Business Editors and Writers.

He started going to their annual conferences where he was making connections that would help him throughout his career. It was one of many associations he would join to make connections.

“I really recommend that you try to figure out some sort of organization or organizations to align yourself with because you can make some really powerful connections,” de Leon said.

He successfully worked those connections when he and his wife move to Seattle, her hometown.

He started calling everyone he met at the business conferences from Seattle to see if anyone would give him a job.

After several people offered some writing jobs, he started freelancing for some of them, which allowed him to sustain himself for a few months.

He was still looking for a job in Seattle when the Seattle Post-Intelligencer shut down printing and started going digital only. Meanwhile, other newspapers began to expand their own online presence.

Since de Leon had web designing knowledge, the Seattle Times hired him as news producer updating the newspaper’s website.        

After being in Seattle for a little more than a year, he and his wife moved back to Texas.

They currently live in Austin, and he works at the Texas Department of Health Services.

He and his wife decided to go on a new journey in an RV and go around the country where he will freelance for different websites and newspapers. One of them is LatinaLista.com, where he will have his own urban gardening column.

There is no specific time frame for this journey, but he said he won’t be able to do it for 20 years. He will follow a specific route and start the journey once his house in Texas has been sold to buy the RV.

“There’s a lot of financial pressure, we might fund the trip for a short time and once we get low on funds we will find a place to settle once again,” said de Leon, who described himself as a “digital nomad” after his lecture.

One of his stories will be on Yellowstone, which is one of the locations they will visit on the journey. He plans to find urban gardening stories along the way and also become a correspondent for a paper or a magazine.

De Leon said he often goes back to stories he wrote and finds inspiration. He wonders whatever happened to those people he wrote about. He plans to pitch the idea of following up with those people 10 years later and re-write and continue their stories.

“Get creative on how you pitch in your stories,” de Leon said.

To follow de Leon’s journey, go to w2wwg.blogspot.com or “Welcome to where we are going” on Instagram and Facebook.

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