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Bilingual Journalism Student Finds Her Niche at Miami Newspaper

When Killeen King started learning Spanish in the sixth grade in Richmond, Va., the Washington and Lee University rising senior probably never imagined herself with a byline on a front-page story for one of the nation’s top Spanish-language newspapers.

Three times already this summer, King has had A-1 bylines and she has written plenty of other stories for el Nuevo Herald, the sister paper to the Miami Herald, where she is spending her summer as W&L’s Todd Smith Fellow.

“It was overwhelming at first,” admitted King. “Everyone who works for el Nuevo Herald has Spanish as a first language – except for me. So there have been some intimidating moments. But everyone has helped me out. It’s been the perfect internship for me.”

King is a double major in journalism and Spanish. When she was looking for an internship earlier this year, two W&L faculty members recommended that she consider el Nuevo Herald, which is the United States’ largest Spanish-language Sunday paper and second-largest daily. As it happened, King had met the executive editor of el Nuevo Herald, Manny Garcia, when he spoke at W&L during her first year.

“I got his business card when he was at W&L but had forgotten about it,” she said. “But this made perfect sense.”

While King was looking for her internship, the W&L journalism department was restructuring the Todd Smith Fellowship. It was established in memory of 1982 graduate Todd Smith, who was murdered in Peru in November 1989 while reporting on links between Shining Path guerrillas and drug traffickers.

Smith’s colleagues at The Tampa Tribune, including then-managing editor Lawrence McConnell , a 1971 W&L graduate, provided the impetus for establishing the fellowship. They wanted to do something in his memory that acknowledged Todd’s interest in international reporting. At first, the fellowship was connected with The Tampa Tribune, the newspaper for which Smith worked. Later it was affiliated with Reuters. This year, for the first time, the fellowship was changed to support an intern at el Nuevo Herald. It was an especially timely change for King.

“The fellowship has undergone several changes over the years,” said Pamela Luecke, head of Washington and Lee’s Department of Journalism and Mass Communications. “We want to continue to honor Todd’s passion for international reporting, and we hope that the relationship with el Nuevo Herald will work well for both parties and that it will be a lasting partnership.”

Luecke noted that King is the first W&L student to intern with a Spanish-language newspaper, adding that it is increasingly important for students considering careers in journalism to be able to function in more than one language.

“More and more newspapers are looking for truly bilingual reporters,” Luecke said. “It’s not just in Florida, Texas and California, as was once the case. Spanish is a real boon to any journalist’s résumé.”

King said that given the bilingual nature of the Hispanic population in Miami, she conducts about 60 percent of her interviews in English and 40 percent in Spanish. The reporting, she added, is more difficult than the actual writing, even though she has an impressive background in Spanish. In addition to studying the language for 10 years, she has tutored Mexican-Americans in her hometown of Richmond, worked as a teacher’s aide in a summer school for English as Second Language students, volunteered at a Hispanic radio station, and spent a term in Spain.

“With all that experience, you still read and write the language more than you speak it,” she said. “Besides that, the dialects are so different. The Spanish that I spoke during my study-abroad term in Spain is very different from what I speak here. One of my co-workers is Salvadoran and Mexican. Sometimes I’ll hear her on the telephone talking with someone from Venezuela, for instance, and she has a hard time understanding him or her because, although they both speak Spanish, the colloquialisms are very different.”

King’s assignments have been varied. Her first page-one story was about a set of quintuplets who had been born in Miami. She was assigned to the news conference, her first ever, at the hospital when three of the five babies were released to go home.

“Being in a news conference with all the TV stations and other reporters was very different from going out and doing reporting,” King said. “But I came back, wrote the story and then worked through it with my editor, who is wonderful about helping me understand the changes he’s making.

“The next morning I picked up the NH on my way into work and saw my story on the front. It was quite a thrill. Once I got to the office, Professor (Edward) Wasserman (Washington and Lee’s Knight Professor of Journalism Ethics) was in the newsroom, which we share with The Miami Herald, and he came up to tell me that the professors back in Lexington had already been alerted to it.”

King’s other A1 stories have been a co-byline on the Miami mayoral election and a feature about the introduction of café con leche to the menus of area McDonald’s.

“That was a big deal here,” she said. “Of course, I went to a McDonald’s to get some reaction, but no one would talk with me. I finally had to wait to talk with a PR representative from McDonald’s and didn’t leave the newsroom until about midnight.”

King said she has, thus far, been undaunted by the prospect of meeting deadlines, although she had worried about that part of the reporting profession. Things only get nerve-wracking, she said, when an interview subject doesn’t get back in touch with her and the clock is ticking.

The internship has increased her desire to pursue a journalism career, and she would love to use her Spanish. “But I’ll go wherever I can get a job,” she said.

Meantime, her articles are available on el Nuevo Herald’s website, where her mother reads them every day. “She has no idea what the articles are about because she can’t read Spanish,” King said. “But she does read every one.”