For reporter Erin Weeks the journey of working for the Aiken Standard didn't just happen overnight. In fact, it wasn't until she enrolled at the University of South Carolina Aiken her love for writing sparked.
Since graduating in the Spring of 2023, Erin has reported on many education stories throughout the Aiken area. She sat down to talk about her career and how her interest in writing sparked after a trip to the Newseum in Washington D.C.
Q. What High School did you attend and who or what inspired you to pursue reporting?
A. I went to Jefferson Davis High School in Blackville, SC. When I was a junior I was given the chance to go on the Washington Youth Tour, where I got to explore The Newseum, a journalism museum in D.C. Sadly, that museum has since closed down, but I remember being totally in awe. I learned about amazing people like Nellie Bly, a 19th-century journalist who went undercover as a patient in an asylum in order to expose the harsh conditions that the real patients were living under. I was very impressed by that! It took me a few years once I got into college to realize media was what I wanted to pursue, but I will always remember that first feeling of admiration for journalism.
A. I chose USC Aiken because it was close to family! I wasn't always a communication major though. I started college at Orangeburg-Calhoun Technical College, where I took early childhood education classes. Later, I briefly switched my major to biology. For a while, I couldn't seem to find something I really loved. When I got to USC Aiken, the communication major seemed to choose me more than I chose it. I couldn't have been happier in that program! I fell in love with photography and graphic design at USC Aiken, and I think that my writing has improved a great deal thanks to my professors. One thing I think all college students should know is that it's okay to change your mind! That's what college is all about - learning more about yourself and discovering what you're good at.
Q. Were you a part of any clubs on campus, if so what were they?
A. I was the Lead News Reporter for the Pacer Times, which is the campus newspaper, for about two years. Working for the school newspaper gave me a taste of what working in a real newsroom would be like.
Q. Did you have any favorite activities that you always looked forward to each semester?
A. I always looked forward to submitting my writing to Broken Ink every year! I was lucky enough to win a few poetry awards, and getting a chance to read other student work is so much fun. I really recommend that any USCA student look into Broken Ink, because it is so much more than a literary journal. Students are able to submit photography, artwork, and even original music!
Q. What kind of opportunities would you say were helpful that the Mass Comm Dept. or the University provided that prepared you for your career?
A. I don't even know where to begin! The professors in the communication department are so invested in their students. I couldn't have asked for a better experience, and I felt I was given so much career guidance. In my classes, I learned so much about using photoshop, graphic design basics, photography and videography. My writing classes were exceptional, from basic grammar refresher courses to creative writing. I also published my first poetry collection, Origins of My Love, while I was in school - this was a major accomplishment for me, and I truly believe that my time at USC Aiken helped this dream of mine become a reality. Dr. Munsell has been one of my biggest supporters! I'm so thankful for all my teachers who tried to help me nurture my creativity.
Q. When it was time to find an internship where did you land the job and how was the experience for you?
A. For my Capstone, I actually did a creative project rather than an internship (shoutout to Professor Southworth for all her help with my photography portfolio!). I did do some extensive job searching during my last semester of school though, because I wanted to have something lined up by the time I graduated. The Aiken Standard was one of the places I reached out to. I never had an internship there, but I did end up writing a few guest articles for them before I graduated. They asked me for an interview shortly after, and I began working there full-time several days after graduation.
Q. What advice would you give students working to find an internship?
A. My best advice for students looking for an internship or a job is to go one step further than you think you need to. Show your potential employers that you truly want the job. And don't let them be the only ones to ask questions during an interview! Prepare some of your own questions to show that you are interested in the job. In fact, never stop asking questions, even after you land the job. Everyone has room to improve no matter how much experience they have!
Q. Did you have any mentors or someone who you admire who works in the news?
A. My number one mentor in journalism has been Professor Jeffrey Wallace. He was the first one to encourage me to join the school newspaper and has given me invaluable feedback and guidance. Even now, he will reach out to me about things I've written for the Aiken Standard and offer his advice, which of course, is always welcome. Without him, I'm not certain I would have gotten as involved in journalism as I have, and I admire his knowledge.
Q. How did you find out about the Aiken Standard and why did you want to become an education reporter?
A. Communication is a broad major, so during my last school year, I considered the possibility of working in graphic design. Writing is probably my greatest love though, and I'm glad that I chose to reach out to the Aiken Standard. I was assigned the education beat when I started working, and I've really enjoyed it. I've been told that the education beat is one of the best places to start for rookie journalists because it very effectively teaches you the ropes of the field.
Q. What's been your favorite story while working there so far?
A. During graduation season this May, I covered tons of high school graduations, which was interesting. My favorite story so far came out of Midland Valley High School's graduation ceremony. I got to write about Daisy Gonzales, who was the first Mexican-American valedictorian at the school. She made history that day and gave part of her speech in Spanish. I was really moved by what she had to say, and I was honored to write about it.
Q. What kind of advice would you give college students who are interested in becoming reporters? Especially those who are looking to work for newspapers.
A. My best advice is to take writing and editing classes and to join your school newspaper. The more experience you have in a newsroom before graduation, the better!
Q. What would you say your top career goal is?
A. I'm not sure where I'll end up, but I have been entertaining the thought of working my way up to television broadcasting someday. Overall, my top career goal is to learn as much as I can no matter what job position I'm in.