Journalism major writes her way into capitol bureau

By Marc Spier
University News Service
March 21, 2007

A flurry of journalists swarm the state capitol to cover the latest legislative processes every day. Upon retreating to their respective bureaus and offices, composing an eye-catching story takes precedent.

Greenhorn journalists like Alysha Hernandez are well aware of the expectations. The 22 year-old senior at Texas State University-San Marcos is an intern at the merged Capitol bureau for heavyweight newspapers the San Antonio Express-News and the Houston Chronicle.

“Politics has always made me really nervous and wary,” said Hernandez. “It’s an intimidating building to be thrust into. I’m also directionally challenged, so navigating the place wasn’t easy, either.”

The double major in print journalism and anthropology was raised in Harlingen, near the heart of the Rio Grande Valley.

Her inquisitive nature was apparent from an early age, when she was caught thumbing through copies of National Geographic and scribbling notations.

“I’ve been notorious for asking questions since I was a child and always wanting to know, ‘why’,” she said. “I’m good at reading people. My friends even ask me to meet people they’re dating so I can give my impression.”

When her family relocated to San Antonio, Hernandez was able to get her first glimpse of professional writing at work. While peeking through the glass at the offices of the San Antonio Express-News, she became fascinated by the process.

“The only certainty I’ve had my whole life is that I will write,” she said. “It’s a way to describe an event or a place for people who can’t see it.”

The affordability and proximity of San Marcos brought Hernandez to Texas State, where she landed scholarships from the National Press Club and Scripps Howard.

Working at student-operated radio station KTSW and writing for the University Star set her in the right direction towards landing an internship with Scripps Howard last summer in Washington, D.C.

While in the nation’s capital, she reported on Hillary Clinton and Barak Obama.

“I was scared to death to go down to the Hill,” Hernandez said. “But the moment I got there, I realized how much I’ve grown. I couldn’t believe I was covering major presidential events.”

Her current internship at the capitol bureau allows Hernandez the opportunity to shadow politically specialized journalists and write weekly feature articles that put a face on legislation.

The series she inks is titled Outside the Capitol, offering readers exposes on staffers, representatives, bills and the atmosphere of the legislative arena.

A recent piece on bike safety legislation led Hernandez to utilize the depth of her journalistic training. The article centered on the pros and cons of proposed Senate Bill 248, calling on the requirement of a lane change for vehicles passing bicyclists.

“I try to find what is interesting about a person or a story,” Hernandez said. “I couldn’t find what it was in this one until I found a biker who had been hit by a car and injured badly.”

After digging a little further, Hernandez discovered a much more intriguing angle. Since the accident, the biker involved only had enough courage to ride her bike in circles around her cul-de-sac, too terrified to pedal the streets of Austin.

“I go with my gut, really listen to what they’re saying and how they talk,” Hernandez said. “I note what they wear and if a person speaks formally or in colloquialisms.”

Those who have taught and mentored Hernandez say her abilities to persevere and succeed are second to none.

“I just saw an article with her byline in the Houston Chronicle the other day,” said Diann McCabe, assistant director of the Mitte Honors program. “She’s interested in everything and always wanting to learn more.”

“Alysha is a credit to her own success,” said Kym Fox, senior lecturer and print sequence coordinator in the School of Journalism and Mass Communication. “She’s our top print student for the sequence, but she acts humble and inspires people who think they might not be strong enough to make it in the business.”

Hernandez first met Fox when she attended the Dow Jones Urban Journalism Workshop, a two week summer boot camp for high school journalists sponsored in part by the San Antonio Express-News.

“Kym Fox inspired me to do my best and made me feel I could make it as a Hispanic female even though it’s been a male dominated field,” Hernandez said.

As for giving advice to up and coming students, Hernandez recommends venturing out of one’s comfort zone and staying focused.

“I’m the first in my family to go to college,” she said. “Don’t listen to people who tell you that you can’t make it. Follow your heart and be passionate in whatever you do.”

Hernandez plans to travel abroad in Guatemala this summer for an anthropological field study before graduating in August.