Mentor of the Month: Roxanne Patel Shepelavy

Instead of a traditional paired mentor-mentee program this year, we are featuring monthly Q&A’s with mentors about how they broke into journalism, what their day is like, and any advice they have for young journalists. From there, students or anyone else (“mentees”) can email the mentors with any questions or set up informational interviews.

Our seventh Mentor of the Month is Roxanne Patel Shepelavy (@roxanneshep), Executive Editor of The Philadelphia Citizen. Ask her anything via roxanne@shepelavy.com.

Q: What is your current gig? How long have you been working there?

I am Executive Editor of The Philadelphia Citizen, a nonprofit media organization with a dual mission: To produce journalism with a solutions-oriented bent, and to engage the citizens of Philadelphia in making this city better. I’ve been a part of The Citizen for over a year. We started as a blog in November 2014, and are launching a full website in September 2015.

Q: Did you always want to work in journalism? How did you get your start?

I realized I wanted to be a journalist almost the moment I walked in to the (very pink, don’t ask me why) offices of The Daily Pennsylvanian, Penn’s student newspaper, my freshman year of college. After a couple of internships — at The Philadelphia Inquirer and The Seattle Times — I joined the staff of The Press Democrat in Santa Rosa, CA, where I worked for 2 years. That’s when I decided what I really wanted to do was write magazine articles. So I moved back east, thinking I’d land in New York. Instead, I got a job at Philadelphia Magazine, where I worked for 10 years, most of it as a staff writer. I’ve been a freelance writer for much of the last decade, mostly writing about health, social issues, and the meeting of science and society for national women’s magazines.

Q: Describe a typical work day for you.

These days, it’s the workday of a startup, so a little of everything — reporting & writing, editing, hiring, helping oversee website design, planning social action campaigns — to make The Citizen a reality.

Q: What is your best advice for young journalists? Do you think there will always be a demand for good journalism?

Enjoy it. And be diligent. Journalism is fun: We get a window into worlds that we otherwise have no business looking in. It’s also hard. I believe good reporting and good storytelling will always be needed, and will always have an outlet. How can they not? “Making it” in a way that matters means doing the hard work of finding sources, asking questions, tracking down information, understanding subjects, whether people or ideas, getting it right — and telling it well. That is not for everyone.

Q: What’s your favorite thing about being a journalist in Philadelphia?

Philly is a great place to do journalism for one simple reason: There is no end of stories. You poke around anywhere in Philly and something crawls out to announce itself as remarkable — whether tragic, or funny, or frustrating, or (often) inspiring. You just have to look.

Q: What do you enjoy outside of journalism? Favorite places to go in the Philly area?

I enjoy road trips with my family, hiking in the Wissahickon, ambling around Morris Arboretum, hanging out in East Passyunk, bragging about the city’s arts/food/music/etc., discovering new gems in new neighborhoods. And books!

Thanks for sharing your wisdom, Roxanne! She also wants to let AAJA members know that The Philadelphia Citizen is looking for freelancers — people who are passionate about the city and making it better — as well as interns. However, internships are unpaid. Check out some of her favorite clips:

“Ideas We Should Steal: Judging Schools Based on Inspections—Not Test Scores” – The Philadelphia Citizen

“Like Father, Like Son” – Washingtonian

“When Self-Help Harms” – Self

Any questions or comments about the mentorship program itself? Would you like to be featured as a Mentor of the Month too? Contact Meeri Kim, AAJA-Philly’s Mentorship Director, via meerinkim@gmail.com.

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