Washington Post reporter says Sac State student newspaper ‘got me out of my shell’

Washington Post reporter Kristine Phillips got her start in journalism as a member of Sacramento State’s student newspaper, The State Hornet. Photo: Danese Kenon/Indianapolis Star

When Kristine Phillips ’10 (Journalism) arrived as a student at Sacramento State in 2008, just two years removed from immigrating to the United States from the Philippines, she was admittedly shy and self-conscious about her English. That changed when she took a couple of journalism classes, which led her to join the student newspaper, The State Hornet.

“I met people with the same interest in journalism, people my age, and that got me out of my shell,” Phillips says.

Today, she is a general assignment reporter at the Washington Post, covering everything from immigration to politics to crime. Most recently, she has written about Taiwan banning the eating of cats and dogs, the Anne Frank Center’s response to White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer’s comments about Adolf Hitler, a gun rights bill passed in Iowa, and an 11-year-old boy who killed himself after his girlfriend faked her death.

Phillips, who previously worked at the Indianapolis Star and the Oregonian, says that while the general assignment beat can be challenging because she often is learning on the go about the topics and issues she covers, she appreciates the opportunity to work at one of the country’s most prestigious newspapers.

“I love coming to work knowing that I’m surrounded by talented people, people who are basically at the top of their career,” she says. “I work in the same building as people who are the best in their field.”

She also is working at a time of immense change in the journalism industry. The expansion of digital and social media channels means her story is not intended just for print audiences. The video, social media, graphic and digital teams all will look at what components can be added or how else it can be shared. For that reason, she encourages current journalism students to learn as many skills as possible.

Something else that has changed is a presidential administration that is openly hostile to journalists and a political climate in which distrust of the news media is high. Most reporters are accustomed to getting criticism or “hate mail,” but as a woman of color, Phillips must also deal with uglier messages filled with racist and sexist remarks.

“Sometimes I just have to get away from my computer and get away from everything, gather my thoughts,” she says. “But after a while, you learn to not let it get to you, because these are people who don’t really know you, so why let them affect how you feel?”

In addition to diversifying their skill set, Phillips says current journalism students should try to get as much practical experience as possible, whether it is by working for the student newspaper as she did or by landing internships.

“Editors care less about where you graduated or what your GPA is,” she says. “They care more about the work you’ve done so far and the quality of clips you can provide.”

Through it all – the hate mail, the learning on the go, the 12-hour days that mean most of her spare time is spent catching up on sleep – Phillips looks to her mother, who came to the United States ahead of the rest of her family, for inspiration.

“She was the breadwinner of the family, and she moved to the United States to support us so we were able to go to good schools,” she says. “She spent several years separated from her children to work, and I don’t think that’s something that anyone would have the strength to do. I wouldn’t be where I am now if my mom didn’t make it possible or give me the opportunities to do it.”

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