A Knack for News

Student journalist Olivia Madera is honing her writing and editing skills as managing editor and news editor of The Echo

Growing up, Olivia Madera watched the news on television, including "NBC Nightly News" and "60 Minutes." Photo: Olivia Madera

Growing up near California’s Bay Area, Olivia Madera enjoyed an evening ritual with her family. “I recall watching ‘NBC Nightly News’ featuring Lester Holt with my family at 5:30 p.m. sharp every weekday when I got home from school. That was my ‘break’ from my homework and studies,” she said. 

By her junior year in high school, Madera began investigating potential universities to attend along with possible majors. “I spent a lot of time filling out job quizzes or tests, researching different interests that I had and where those could take me and which colleges had the best programs,” said Madera. “Throughout this preparation, it was evident that I really enjoyed writing and of all things…the news.”

Now enrolled in California Lutheran University’s Communication program, Madera’s emphasis is journalism with a minor in film and television. She uses her skills in storytelling and affinity for writing as the new managing editor and news editor of The Echo, overseeing its digital content, pitching, editing and overseeing news articles and serving as second-in-command to the outlet’s editor-in-chief.

Truth seeker

Prior to taking on these roles,  Madera wrote articles for The Echo’s news section during her sophomore year. “The Echo offered me experience that I was having trouble finding and also needed for my journalism career,” she said. 

She cites the interview process as being the most gratifying aspect of reporting. 

“Coming up with questions on the spot and chasing the lead or story makes me feel such a rush of excitement and adrenaline that keeps me coming back for more,” said Madera. “As a reporter, you not just look for the story, but you dig for it and investigate the story further. You’re constantly reaching out to sources, scheduling interviews and writing up the cold, hard facts with no bias.”

Madera started her career as a reporter through a high school internship in her senior year with her hometown’s local newspaper, BenitoLink. This experience, which happened during the Coronavirus pandemic, solidified her interest in working in journalism. 

“Through conducting the interview process with my sources through Zoom, I learned that I had a knack for getting to know people, being curious and above all, asking tons of questions. I learned that I have a great skill in getting to the bottom of things and finding out why certain things happened or why did the person feel/act the way they did regarding a topic,” she said.

Aside from working with The Echo, Madera writes and serves as the writing and editing director for the media platform Her Campus ™, which features online articles about university life, extracurricular activities and other topics relevant to women attending colleges and universities. Subjects she has covered include “Advice for a Better Morning Routine,” “Trader Joe’s Must Haves” and “The Best Taylor Swift Love Songs of All Time.”

One of her first articles for the platform, entitled “What College Means to Me,” explores what she has gained as a new college student at Cal Lutheran. She tells readers the challenges she has overcome as well as her insights into attending an institution of higher education. “College is my time to be myself, live my life, and face my fears one step at a time. That could be the same for you too! Do not disregard the opportunity you are able to have just because you are a college student or just because it is hard. Things are going to be hard in life because you have to work someday along with so many other responsibilities.” she said in the post.

Her nightly habit of news watching, coupled with her and her family’s weekly viewing of “60 Minutes,” fueled her interest in current affairs, finding the truth and learning about world events. 

“I had always loved to write, and I soon found out that the journalism and broadcast news industry has so many available job opportunities and learning experiences to explore. So, with intentions of wanting to make our world a better place, preventing the spread of fake news and seeing what the world has to offer, I chose my communication degree with a journalism emphasis,” she said. 

Madera initially heard about Cal Lutheran from a high school friend who attended the university. She admits she chose to attend it due to various factors including a “very generous” scholarship, its focus on inclusivity, its small school size and proximity to Los Angeles.

“I had always seen myself in southern California, and I felt that Cal Lutheran was a great leeway to that type of college lifestyle while also giving me many perks I couldn’t find at other schools such as studying at a Hispanic serving institution, access to programs like SSS [student support services] and a great communication/journalism program,” she said.

On the record

Madera keeps a busy schedule with her coursework, including her capstone project, and serving on The Echo’s staff. She also works as a content production assistant in Cal Lutheran’s Marketing and Communications department, writing social media post captions, interviewing students for the university’s online content and posting undergraduate and alumni testimonials on the Cal Lutheran website. In addition, she has served as a peer advisor for incoming first-year students for the past two years.

“I have had the greatest experience with this program,” Madera said about her tenure as a peer advisor, where she helps acclimate students to university life. “I have been able to make connections with amazing freshmen who have taught me so much. I love giving back to them and getting them used to college since I know how it feels to be in their shoes. I remember my freshman year wasn’t the best it could be, and I wanted to help students who are going through the same things that I did such as moving away from home, starting college and making new friends in a new city.”

She commends the Peer Advisor program, which has allowed her to build what she calls a “tight-knit community” that still helps her to navigate life on campus. “Being in this program has helped me understand the importance of giving back to others, being kind to everyone you meet and not being afraid to put yourself out there and try something new!” she said.

Her work as a peer advisor and student journalist has emboldened Madera to engage in novel experiences: Last spring, she traveled to Greece and Italy with other students for two courses, Ancient Greek Philosophy and Beginning Cinema Production. These seminars introduced her to different ways of life which she acknowledges have further shaped her college experience.

“Traveling abroad has sparked my travel passion and has allowed me to see how different cultures communicate,” said Madera. “As a journalist and student, I was able to see how others told their stories and hear the stories of many other people. I was also able to learn a lot about philosophy and film and how those subjects have inspired and influenced whole societies and countries.”

On campus, Madera appreciates the guidance she has received from Kirstie Hettinga, PhD, who teaches journalism classes and serves as faculty adviser for The Echo. “I have taken a couple of her classes, such as Media Writing and Advanced Reporting and Editing. In these classes, and those for The Echo, she has brought in guest speakers with prestigious journalism backgrounds who have been able to help me decide on my own journalism path and make connections with them for potential internships. She has continually given great advice about what classes to take and how to dive into the journalism industry,” Madera said. 

Although Madera plans to embark on a journalism career when she graduates in 2025, she is receptive to working in other fields, namely film and television, public relations or marketing based on her coursework and tenure as a content production assistant. She additionally would prefer to return and live close to her hometown of Hollister, where she can establish her professional life. Another option she mentions is freelance writing or working full-time as a staff writer with Her Campus. 

“I have a lot of thinking to do. That's for sure. But if I can land a job or internship in the journalism field right after I graduate, I think that would kick off my post-graduate experience that I want to shape for myself,” she said. “My dream jobs are being a journalist for “60 Minutes” (like Leslie Stahl), being the next Lester Holt with “NBC Nightly News” or being a journalist for CNN. I want to get my foot in the door and make a name for myself in the industry.”

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