Q&A: LAUSD student’s journey to 2023 California Student Journalist of the Year
Bryan Sarabia | May 9, 2023
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For LAUSD student Delilah Brumer, journalism was not all that appealing — until a series of events tested her and her classmates, revealing the power of the pen and the press.
Delilah’s reporting in her community and school led to her selection as California’s 2023 Student Journalist of the Year. Last month, Delilah was recognized as one of five finalists for the Journalism Education Association Journalist of the Year and awarded a $1,000 scholarship.
“This four year journey as a journalist has been really life changing and having all these people behind me has made it even more amazing…” Delilah said. While jumping over countless hurdles, Delilah realized the importance of advocating for your work and supporting fellow journalists.
When Delilah’s class at Daniel Pearl Magnet High School faced censorship from the school administration, journalism teacher Adriana Chavira defended them, ultimately leading to an unlawful suspension. Rather than being silenced, Delilah and her classmates found their voices through journalism.
After writing nearly 100 stories for her school newspaper, Delilah found a sense of purpose and passion as a student journalist. She will be attending the prestigious Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University this fall.
In an interview with LA School Report, LAUSD student Delilah talked about what led to her becoming California’s Student Journalist of the Year:
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
How did Ms. Chavira and your experience at Daniel Pearl help you get into Northwestern? Do you owe part of your success to her?
Ms. Chavira is one of the most important people in my life. She has impacted me not just by being my teacher, but supporting me in my journey. If it wasn’t for her, I would probably be a completely different person! I am so thankful to her.
She doesn’t lead our newspaper; she lets us take the reins. She supports each and every one of us in any way she can. We always joke that she’s super strict or passive aggressive, but she’s just a great person who wants to see you succeed. She definitely is one of the biggest reasons I got into Northwestern, but beyond that, she’s one of the biggest reasons I know what I want to do in life.
Looking back at her suspension last year, what are some things you can take away from that experience?
I think that the censorship incident was really, really scary and stressful, but at the same time, it did teach me a lot. It taught me more about journalism law and journalism ethics. It taught me that it’s important to stand up for my work and to know that if my work is solid, there’s nothing to be afraid of. I didn’t write the story that caused the censorship but the student who did, who’s also my friend, did a great job reporting, so there was nothing to be afraid of.
The fact that LAUSD tried to censor us was kind of a punch; it was out of the blue. It took nine months of behind the scenes fighting and organizing and all that kind of stuff. While it taught me to be more confident and careful in my work, it also showed just how much Ms. Chavira was willing to fight for us.
I think most journalism advisers would at least second guess potentially losing their job for a story their students wrote, but it was never even a question for her. Ms. Chavira was there for us, and she said, “It is your decision. And I will go along with it. Whatever it is. If you want to take down the article, if you want to adjust the article, if you want to leave it up exactly how it is, it’s all up to you.”
We were scared of her losing her job or being suspended. A lot of us even wanted to bend to the district’s will because of it. But we also knew that if we did that, we were just showing them that they can continue to censor us like they can continue to censor other schools. That was the biggest reason we decided to continue fighting after we made the initial decision to keep the article the way it is.
I want to talk about your achievement as California Student Journalist of the Year. Congratulations! Tell me more about that.
I think one of the biggest things I learned is that people are watching you and the impact you’re making in your community. As I was putting together my portfolio with almost a year’s worth of work, seeing people respond to all of it was so amazing. I knew that the reporting I was doing, whether it be about my school district’s bus driver shortage or about a new club at my school, the readers cared, and people do care about student journalists.
Another thing I learned as I was putting my portfolio together is that I have done a lot more than I thought I have done. I’ve written almost 100 articles! As I was combing through thousands of photos, it was really mind blowing to just see my work all together. It’s easy over four years to get used to what you do, because you care about it. It was nice to step back and be like, “Wow, I’ve grown a lot.” So that was really great.
The way I found out was great, too, because my adviser threw me a little surprise party. That day, we were passing out our magazine, so I was very stressed because magazine distribution is always a hectic time. As I was coordinating, Ms. Chavira kept telling me how we had a magazine critique at 10am and emphasized how I needed to be there. So I went in and saw my principals and counselors and staff writers who are in other periods, but I didn’t think anything of it because I was still stressed.
We go on Zoom where Mitch Ziegler from the Journalism Education Association starts actually talking about our magazine, kind of playing the role, and I didn’t think much of it so I started listening and taking notes. He then calls out my name and asks me to raise my hand. I do and that’s when he tells me, “you’re the California Student Journalist of the Year.”
I was so confused and stunned that I didn’t even get to scream or jump. The disbelief left me speechless, it was just absolutely incredible. My staff and Ms. Chavira being there for me was very special.
What would you say would be one of the most memorable experiences that you’ve had as a journalist?
One of the most memorable stories I’ve covered was when I was interning with the LA Times High School Insider this past summer. I noticed my friends and myself really struggle with the college application process. I saw other students from all different walks of life: first generation students, low income students, wealthy students, students from all over the state, all of us were just struggling with the process. I wanted to look more into that, so I started to do some research into things like the teen mental health crisis and how college applications played into that, especially because the process is now so much harder than in past years.
After connecting with other students, I was able to write an impactful piece on how teens are not just dealing with the college application process, but also how they’re overcoming their difficulties. And I think that it was really impactful.
I was able to have that story published in the Los Angeles Times, which is crazy to me! The fact that such a big news outlet would publish my work, and also that that work got to be read by such a huge audience was amazing. I especially think it was beneficial for adults to read the piece, because a lot of times they don’t know what goes on in teens’ lives.
Congratulations for being published in the LA Times, and congratulations on getting into Northwestern. What is something that you look forward to when you enroll in the fall?
I think the biggest thing I’m excited about is joining the newspaper. I want to learn from all these amazing college students and hone my skills, so I’m really excited to join that community. I think that going halfway across the country is so scary, but having that community I know be able to form makes it more exciting and less terrifying.
What has been your journey as a journalist? What has shaped you into the reporter that you are today?
I go to a journalism magnet school, but at first, I had no interest in journalism. I argued with my school counselor about being put in the class at all, actually. It was at that time, as a freshman, that I began to explore storytelling almost against my will. But as I learned how to write well and take photos while doing all of this really exciting work, I realized my work was really impactful. Ms. Chavira, my journalism instructor, really helped me start to find my voice in journalism, and so has my newspaper staff, because after I finished my freshman year, I was completely hooked.
Tell me more about the types of journalism that you’re interested in. What are some formats you may want to try in the future?
The main thing I do is write more long form pieces. I do a lot of both breaking news and investigative and a lot of newsy feature pieces. I also love photography. While I’ve done a couple of videos through PBS Student Reporting Labs with my school, I want to learn more video journalism. I think that it’s really important for journalists to have multimedia skills and to be able to tell stories in unique ways. Another thing I want to branch more into is audio journalism. One of my best friends runs the podcast for our school, and I want to learn more about what she does. Overall, I’m interested in becoming more of a multimedia journalist because that’s really important in today’s media landscape.
To close this interview, I want to ask you how you find value in journalism. In your opinion, why is journalism important work?
I’ve always heard that journalists are the voice for the voiceless, and I have to say I disagree with that. I think journalism is a way to amplify people’s voices, not to speak for them. I think that’s what’s so impactful about journalism is that through interviews, people shine through and tell you their most important stories.
I recently wrote an article for the LA Daily News, which I’m freelancing for. The story was about pollution near the Van Nuys Airport and I interviewed some residents who lived right next door. I had an hour-long conversation with a mom who was worried about her kids because in the past three years, the pollution has become a lot worse. Throughout the interview, I was able to hear this complete stranger open up to me, and I was able to publish her voice. And I think that’s so impactful.
This article is part of a collaboration between The 74 and the USC Annenberg School for Communications and Journalism.
Bryan Sarabia is a junior at the University of Southern California, originally from Houston, Texas. He is majoring in journalism and Spanish.