Emily Wilder

Emily Wilder preparing for graduation from Stanford in her backyard.

Emily Wilder landed an internship on the breaking news desk at The Arizona Republic a few months ago and hit the ground running. Despite majoring in history instead of journalism at Stanford University, two weeks into her internship, she discovered she had the instincts of a reporter when she ran out to cover a story on her day off and ended up on a national cable news program.

She loves writing, and now that she’s got a taste for breaking news, she’s happily planning a career in journalism.

Wilder, 22, grew up in an Orthodox community in Phoenix and graduated from Shearim Torah High School. Even though she’s “not fully observant right now,” her background impacts everything she does and gives her reason to feel she’ll approach reporting in a unique way.

In roughly two weeks, she wraps up her final academic term and, although having to finish virtually is “a bit of a bummer,” after watching members of her family recover from COVID-19, she understands the precautions she has to take.

How are you dealing with the impact of COVID-19 so far?

My mom is a health care worker, so I always had a real respect for how dangerous COVID can be. The fact that my community and my family were privileged enough not to lose anyone to COVID and not get super-sick from COVID, made me even more aware of the disproportionate impacts of COVID, and more interested in making sure people understood how bad it was.

In terms of school, we were sent home in March and, since the last term of last year, I’ve been doing school at home. I definitely feel like it’s not the full experience, but I understand why it needs to happen. I don’t think there’s any other option, but it is a bummer. And Zoom fatigue is real.

Why did you want to intern in journalism?

I always wanted to do journalism. I recently found this email I sent in to the Republic in 2013 when I was 15, asking if they had internship opportunities for high schoolers.

I find history and journalism really similar. You’re understanding something about the world. You’re asking questions about the world, and then you’re answering those questions with evidence. And journalism is a little more interesting, because more people read it, and you’re influencing the real world. Whereas history is a little more siloed in academic institutions.

What was the process for the internship?

I didn’t get the internship in the traditional way. The Republic generally recruits for this internship from Arizona universities — mostly ASU, but I was nearing graduation and knew I wanted to do journalism, and it’s a good idea to get a real and formal experience.

At Stanford there’s something called the Rebele Fellowship, which basically subsidizes working full-time with a media organization. Initially, I reached out to one of the main directors of the Republic’s newsroom through the fellowship.

The director was excited and happy to have me work with her as an intern on her investigation team. However, it turned out that the fellowship stipulated all work must be done remotely. Since I would work at least a little in the field, she told me to apply for the breaking news internship instead.

I recommend an internship to any aspiring journalists in Arizona looking for experience.

Do you feel you’re missing out by not working in an actual newsroom?

There’s probably more that I would glean from being there. A large part of internships are meeting people and forming relationships and being inside a work setting or learning about a newsroom and how it functions every day.

I’m not in a newsroom. I’m not around those people every day. I haven’t really met a lot of people in person, so that’s unfortunate. I expect a lot of people are going through that right now.

But I’m grateful to have a job at all.

There are trade offs. If it were normal circumstances, I don’t think I would have been able to do some of the cool things I’m doing.

What’s it like covering breaking news during a pandemic?

It’s been a very steep learning curve, but maybe it’s different when the news cycle isn’t so crazy. But it’s been super.

I do some things in person like go to the scene of different events. I wear a mask and I socially distance from everybody, but I am going into the field once or twice a week for various stories. Almost everything else is virtual. I’m working from my bedroom on a laptop most of the day.

I’ve gotten a lot more experience — way more exciting experience and responsibility than I might have otherwise. And I’ve gotten to do some cool stories I’m really proud of.

Again, I don’t know if I would have had the opportunity to do this under different circumstances.

What stories are you most proud of?

One of the stories I’m most proud of happened a couple weeks into my internship. Somebody at the Republic who was not working that day messaged to say there were hundreds of cars parked outside of a COVID-19 testing blitz in Maryvale in Southwest Phoenix.

Some were waiting there since 6 a.m., and it was 6 p.m. at that time. It was my day off and I saw this message and nobody was available to go cover it. I realized it was a really important story, especially because that’s a working-class community, a primarily Latino community. I realized this is an important story to tell, so I offered to go cover it.

It was my first time really enjoying myself out in the field and talking to people. It was also scary and nerve-wracking, but I loved it.

I realized it was an important enough story to call congress people and politicians and get their takes on it, which was also something I hadn’t done yet and I was a little nervous about. But I’m really proud of the process and that I shed light on that issue.

The next day, Rachel Maddow, an MSNBC anchor, showed my article and my byline on her show, which is really cool. That was exciting.

I also covered a Trump rally in North Phoenix, and I covered the funeral of the man who made national headlines because his daughter blamed the governor and the president for his death from COVID-19.

And most recently, I’m really proud of a story about a man named Neko Wilson in the Navajo County Jail. He was there for over a year for a probation violation on a 14-year-old marijuana possession.

And it was just such a sad, difficult story to tell. We were able to join him on his first day as a free man when he was finally released from Navajo County Jail. That was really exciting and that sort of made national headlines.

I’ve been fortunate enough to stumble upon stories, or just be working during a time as exciting as this one.

Has that heart-pumping reporting made you more sure of journalism as a career?

It definitely has. I haven’t done a lot of this type of writing before, and this is my first time trying it. There’s a lot of diversity in this field and I’d love to like get other experiences — maybe work at a national outlet or something.

But I really appreciate local reporting in my hometown. It gives me the opportunity to talk about my community. I did a story about chevra kadisha during COVID-19 and how the community had to adapt and change it and other mourning practices.

Do you think the way you were raised informs how you approach this work?

Yes, I definitely feel like there might be a lot of Jewish people in the media, but there aren’t a lot of people that grew up Orthodox or have a real connection to Orthodox people or Orthodox communities, and that’s a blind spot of the industry. It manifests into inaccurate coverage or disrespectful coverage or dangerous coverage even.

So I’m really happy to be a voice that has insight into my community and its perspective, and I can help make reporting more accurate about our thoughts and people.

Coming from a small minority community within a broader local setting means that I’m a little more in tune with what other minority communities’ unique experiences might be. I try really hard to honor and cover accurately different communities unique experiences.

I definitely credit that to my upbringing.

You could be a trailblazer.

Most women at college don’t come from Orthodox backgrounds, especially at Stanford.

If there are other girls from Shearim or similar schools or communities that want to go to Stanford and are interested in setting their sights for college at that level — my dream is to help them get to places like Stanford. JN