Editor’s Note — This is part of a conversation series highlighting outstanding Husker alumni on the University of Nebraska–Lincoln’s Medium page. This week, meet Mekita Rivas, a journalism graduate who — through hard work, persistence, skill and a bit of luck — has carved out a space in digital media, editing and writing for publications like Cosmopolitan, The New York Times, and Bustle.
When did you become interested in journalism?
My interest in journalism is really an extension of my interest in storytelling. I’ve kept a journal since age five and have always seen myself as a storyteller first and foremost. I would fill up notebooks writing poems and short stories. I loved coming up with characters and plotlines. I was a shy, introverted child, but my imagination is what kept me entertained. I grew up watching network news with my parents, and that was when I began to connect the dots between journalism and storytelling, and how they are one and the same.
Talk a little bit about your career trajectory.
My first job out of college was in local TV news and I very quickly discovered that it wasn’t for me. I thought I was going to go the “traditional” newsroom route, but I entered the workforce at such a unique moment in journalism. The landscape was rapidly shifting away from the old-school mediums like print and broadcast. Digital was becoming the dominant force, but few people were prepared for how significant and earth-shattering that shift turned out to be. So I left media because I just didn’t see a place for me. For about three years, I worked as an in-house editor and writer in higher education and the nonprofit space. In 2016, I began freelance writing as a side hustle without a single clue about how to actually be a freelance writer. I was cold pitching publications and literally just hoping someone would read my work out of the slush pile. Eventually I got my lucky break when an editor at Bustle published one of my personal essays. One byline led to another — and one publication led to another — and here I am five years later with an entire writing career.
Are there specific stories/topics you’re passionate about?
I mostly cover culture and style, with some wellness, lifestyle, food and wine, and politics sprinkled in. While I have carved out a place in the media landscape as primarily a fashion journalist, I really consider myself a generalist. What I love most about this work is being able to write about a lot of different topics and having the freedom to pursue stories that truly interest and fascinate me. What’s most important to me is that I have the opportunity to examine these issues and topics through the lens of gender and race, especially as a multicultural woman of color myself.
You recently tweeted about becoming the writer you’ve always wanted to be, and getting paid to do it! Can you talk a little about that journey?
I’ve touched on this above, but what I’ll add is that the number one lesson I’ve learned along this journey is that most of the time, your biggest obstacle is yourself and getting in your own way. For years I convinced myself that no one was interested in my voice or my point of view. Now I have an entire portfolio that proves otherwise. I remember when I made the decision to start freelancing, my main goal was simply to have no regrets. I didn’t want to look back in a few years or decades and wonder, “What if I had given it a shot?” Even if I didn’t end up finding success as a freelance writer, at least I would’ve been able to say that I tried and gave it my all. That was always my main motivating factor.
Do you have a favorite story you’ve written?
It’s really hard to pick! I’ve honestly been so fortunate to work on some incredible stories. One of my most recent faves is a feature story I wrote for Wine Enthusiast that explores the history of the curative properties of wine. I just had a blast reporting it and learned a lot from the sources I spoke to. Plus, it was for the print magazine, and while I’m a digital native who mostly writes for an online audience, I grew up with print, so it still holds a really special place in my heart.
Is there one thing you learned in your time at Nebraska that you’ve taken with you and continue to use every day?
Nebraska is where I learned how to tell a story the journalistic way. It’s where I learned the structure of a good story, all the stylistic elements, and the importance of asking the right questions. It’s where I refined my rough storytelling skills and turned them into something that could actually help me launch and establish a career in journalism. Without the journalism school and without my experience as a reporter and columnist at the Daily Nebraskan, I don’t know that I would’ve landed on this path.
Was there someone at Nebraska that had a big impact on you?
My English and ethnic studies professor Joy Castro was hugely instrumental during my time at Nebraska. I took two of her classes as an undergrad and would’ve taken all of her classes if I could’ve. She was the first teacher who I felt truly saw me as more than a student. She saw me as a young writer of color who had a voice, but didn’t know quite how to use it. Her classes illuminated so much for me, both in terms of my writing abilities but also in my own personal history as a multicultural, first-generation woman.
What advice would you give to a student interested in journalism, or, referencing your tweet again, someone who’s looking to accomplish something they’ve always wanted?
Get out of your own way. And always set yourself up for success by being able to show what you’re capable of doing. That means you need a website showcasing your work. You need some type of presence online and in the world that you want to be in. One of my big breaks came when I was hired at Teen Vogue as a fashion news writer. I’ll never forget that when I met my editor for the first time IRL, she told me that she picked my application at random. But visiting my website and reading my work is what really sold her and compelled her to reach out to me. The lesson here is that while I did have luck on my side, if I didn’t have anything to show when I was finally presented with the opportunity, it wouldn’t have mattered anyway. Luck may help you get your foot in the door, but talent and hard work will keep you there.