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The Year of Living Dangerously

By Bianca Consunji ’12
Student

The most I’ve ever cried in my life was in the year I spent at the J-School.

 As a women’s magazine editor, little of my life was spent doing the nitty-gritty work of a journalist. I assigned stories, went to events in cocktail dresses, and attended fashion shows dressed in couture. Doing beat reporting was like having a bucket of cold water thrown over me—in the streets of the Bronx, I was afraid of shadows in dark corners, rejected repeatedly by sources who were reluctant to talk.

Coming to New York all the way from the Philippines is no joke, and I had no relatives to turn to in the tri-state area. But unlike most students, who were safely cocooned in their schools during their freshman year, J-Schoolers have a one-year deadline to burrow themselves into the dirty corners of the city and dig up fresh, relevant stories. It was a daunting task, one combined with cramming my head full of technical information as a digital media concentrator.

So I wept—on buses, in empty classrooms, and inside my room, muffling my sobs so my roommates wouldn’t wake. But soon enough the sessions of self-pity and despair gave way to confidence as I learned to produce journalism that started appearing in New York publications. Back home, family and friends proudly shared links to my work on their social media networks.

There are two particular stories that stand out from my year at the J-School so far: The first was a video I made for a class that went viral, and the second was an investigative story I worked on with a classmate about toxins in public schools. The first was a stroke of luck. I found a charismatic candy seller on the D train who made $55,000 a year; his story attracted TV networks and tabloids who saw my video online. But the second was the culmination of months of work, heading uptown to the Bronx on increasingly short days as winter drew near, and late nights polishing sentences ‘til they shone.

Those two particular stories made me realize how much I had changed in the short months I was at the J-School, and how much further I could go in journalism if I put in the necessary work. Columbia gave me an opportunity to shake off any notions I had about myself: What my limitations were, and what I am capable of. It’s been a humbling year so far, and every time I read or watch a classmate’s particularly inspiring piece of work, I simultaneously want to curl up into a little ball or grab a notebook and pen in search of the next story.

With one month left to go in the program, there’s been a lot of crying again—but mostly out of amazement that I survived and thrived, and because it’s almost over. Soon enough, I’ll be joining 100 years’ worth of alumni who consider their time in the J-School as one of the most intense years of their lives.

In between hanging out with raspy-voiced sources in dark streets, filming seagulls on a heap of slippery rocks at Coney Island and getting caught in the middle of a knife search at a Brooklyn high school, my year at the J-School was a year of living dangerously (and sometimes more literally than I would care to admit to my mother), but it was a year well spent. In the meantime, I’ll make way for the next batch of bright-eyed journalists—and advise them to keep a box of tissues handy at all times.

Posted by: Current StudentCurrent Student April 2012

2 Comments

  1. Dr. Jay
    Posted 04.16.12 at 10:18 pm | Permalink

    Congratulations from a proud fellow Filipino!

  2. Posted 10.12.12 at 1:04 am | Permalink

    This is very moving and inspiring. This inspires me to inspire people as well.

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