You started at the Intercept as a fact-checker and now you’re an investigative reporter. So how did that happen?
I started out reporting on education in Minnesota and once I decided that I wanted to pursue journalism, I was particularly interested in investigative journalism. But being in Minnesota didn’t offer a pathway to doing that kind of reporting, so I applied for an internship at The Nation in New York. (That internship was a total gamble because at that time they only paid something like $125 per week which is nothing if you have to survive in New York. Fortunately we were able to organize for better pay for future interns.) The internships at The Nation are 100% fact-checking so I genuinely learned a skill that I could use for the work I eventually wanted to do. After my internship I started getting freelance fact-checking gigs, many of which were book projects. I fact-checked Naomi Klein and Nick Turse who does a lot of reporting on the U.S. military.
Then The Intercept was launching. First they hired me as a freelancer and then they asked me to come on board as a full-time staff to coordinate and develop that department. But being a fact-checker was never my career goal, so I told the editor-in-chief at the time “ I only want to take this job if this is going to be a pathway to reporting.” And he responded “we don’t want to hire a fact-checker who just wants to fact-check full-time, we want somebody who will get the fact-checking work done and then pitch stories.” So from the very first months I started pitching stories. At one meeting I cold-pitched to travel to Paris and cover the Climate Conference and they accepted that even though it was beyond the scope of my role. And I learned a lot by sticking to my gut, by being persistent and not backing down.
I think that it would have been very comfortable for The Intercept to leave me in a fact-checking role because I excelled at my job. Especially when you’re a woman and you display competence in these kind of support roles, people want to see you stick to them. So I had to repeat constantly that I wanted to be a reporter, to ask what the timeline was going to look like, and what they needed to see from me to transition me into a reporting role. And even though I faced resistance, I ultimately started doing more risky investigative projects at a level where they couldn’t keep me as a fact-checker any longer. A lot of other places wouldn’t have offered me that pathway so I give them credit for doing that but I also think that was because I repeated it and repeated it and repeated it even when I doubted it myself. And now I am incredibly happy that I did that, I am so glad to be reporting and to not be fact-checkin anymore.
When I talk to some of the younger women journalists in my life who are deciding what direction they want to go, then I tell them “yes, you can take a pathway as a fact-checker or an editor but it’s worth challenging yourself to take on roles that people aren’t immediately comfortable seeing you in.”
Investigative reporting is one of the most prestigious and also one of the most male-dominated forms of journalism. How do you think investigative journalism can benefit from being more inclusive to women?
I notice more of an attempt to humanize stories in the work of women investigative reporters. Even when they’re heavily based on documents and data research, there’s still seems to be more of an effort to tell people stories.
Who are the women investigative reporters that you look up to?
The women who’ve been the most important for my career have been my colleagues. High on my list are the members of the Intercept research team who have been working as investigative reporters under the label of research editor for decades: Margot Williams, Sheelagh McNeill, and Lynn Dombek, they’re the powerhouses behind The Intercept’s investigative work and their work came up under very different conditions for women journalists. My women colleagues at The Intercept are my greatest inspiration.
Martyna Starosta, Fall 2018 Guatemala Reporting Fellow