Student and Alumni Profiles

Alumna Profile: Nora Wesson

Nora Wesson didn’t declare her major until she was a junior because she didn’t know what she wanted to do. A class her sophomore year changed that.

It was the stereotypical teenage angst that made Wesson not want to follow in the footsteps of her parents, who are both journalists.  “I wanted something in writing,” Wesson says. “I was thinking about poetry, or sort of a generic English degree that I could use to become a writer, but in the fiction space. I’d never thought about becoming a journalist.” 

During the COVID-19 pandemic lockdown, with many conspiracy theories flying around, Wesson took News Literacy in a Digital Age with Professor David Alm.  The class teaches students to become literate news consumers and their own fact-checkers.  Learning to spot misinformation, disinformation, and bias in news sources, Wesson applied those skills in her final project, an analysis of the conspiracy theory that Jeffrey Epstein did not kill himself but rather was murdered by people who wanted to silence him. 

“I really started looking at journalism in a different way,” she says. “You read the newspaper every morning, and you don’t really see the effort that goes into it because those journalists make it look easy.” To Wesson, the hard news language,  semantic choices, and  structure of newspapers became more than just an informative work product that exists in the world.

Recognizing her abilities to write, research, and think critically to be balanced and fair, Wesson immersed herself in journalism and concluded, “I could be a reporter.”  She interned at the CUNY-TV magazine show called Urban U. “I learned some amazing things there that can also translate to print, which is something I really love about this dichotomy between print and broadcast,” says Wesson.

The journalism program at Hunter helped Wesson prepare talking to different kinds of people in the professional world. “When you’re taking multiple journalism classes at once, you’re working on multiple articles at once, and you’re talking to multiple sources, and that’s really hard to juggle,” says Wesson. 

Wesson saw that there are a lot of great publications at Hunter such as The Envoy, The Athenian, and The Olivetree Review, but all of them accept only submissions related to Hunter. She created The Arrow Magazine, where writings unrelated to Hunter College can be published too.  The Arrow is open to anyone at Hunter, regardless of major, who wants to submit their writing for publication. 

Experiences inside the classroom and through college motivated Wesson to seek out additional opportunities.  The summer before her senior year, Wesson responded to a social media post seeking applicants to become a contributor for, an independent and non-partisan local news source dedicated to the Upper East Side. It gave her exposure and the ability to build her portfolio.  Her first published piece, about a little gay bar in the neighborhood called Brandy’s Piano Bar, is still one of her favorites.  

Before graduating, Wesson received a job offer to work for full time while all her peers were still job searching.  Although the company does not have brand name recognition, it’s a small news outlet where all hands are on deck.  “I think there’s something to be said for being at a small outlet, because you get to do stuff earlier than you would at a big outlet,” says Wesson.  “It’s a common thing for people just starting out to be kind of insecure about where they work, because people don’t know what it is.”  

Wesson points out you can do more stuff at the little places faster than you can at the big places because the big places have more professionals. “I’m writing five stories a week,” she says. “I’m getting so much experience and getting so many clips. I counted yesterday: I’ve published at least 110 articles in the last year and a few months.”

Every outlet has its own style.  Wesson writes stories she is assigned, and sometimes she pitches her own ideas. Wesson loves to write features and profiles that have a literary, scenic lead or anecdotal story, something the Upper East Site doesn’t typically do. Periodically, her boss allows her to write these stories in her own style. She recently published a long profile of a woman in the neighborhood who is disabled and has a standup comedy show where all the comedians are disabled. It’s called Don’t Dis’ My Ability Show.

Even when she’s not working, Wesson doesn’t stop looking for stories.  She continues to walk around the neighborhood a lot. If she sees something weird, a new construction, or a sign up for a new restaurant, she will take a picture of it, approach the construction workers or call the site manager.  

When interviewing people, Wesson prepares questions beforehand. Sometimes she will think of other questions to ask as the conversation flows. Rather than, “what happened when you witnessed this car accident?” Wesson thinks it’s better to say, “what did you see?” or “how did you feel when you saw that?” or “were you scared?, what were you scared of?” 

“You’re trying to get into their perspective of seeing it, but also their emotional perspective because that’s the thing that makes the story matter,” says Wesson.  

“An interview is not therapy, but sometimes it can be therapeutic for a source to remember things that they wouldn’t otherwise have remembered,” says Wesson.  “When you’re talking about sort of emotional stuff with sources, sometimes they’ll kind of have a breakthrough in the interview, and they’re like, ‘Oh, my God, I’m like, I never thought about it like that’ or, you know, ‘I never considered that part of it.’ And then that’s great for them and their emotional wellbeing, but it’s also great for you because then you get their improved perspective.”

“What did it smell like?” is a random question that no one expects, but Wesson uses it just to get someone’s memory going. “They all react weirdly to that question, because it’s an incredibly strange thing to ask,” says Wesson. But she finds that smell is the sense that’s connected most to memory. It’s an appropriate question to ask if something happens outside or in a place that would have a smell. The question can be asked with anything. People tend to remember stuff better when they are thinking about how they felt. 

Wesson takes great care to follow up with all her sources and maintain relationships with them. “I don’t ever want my sources to feel like I’ve thrown them away or just use them for my own benefit,” says Wesson. “I want to continue to talk to them, even if they don’t have anything to give to me.” Contacting a source occasionally does not mean they are friends. There is a separation there, but it is helpful for sources to know you are thinking about them. Wesson keeps up with her sources and remains friendly.  

She identities four categories of sources: the tragic source, regular civilian source, politicians, and law enforcement source.

When reporting on tragedy, Wesson does worry about being exploitative to sources because she is contacting someone that she has never met during the worst period of their life to talk about their trauma and make money off of it. It’s an uncomfortable situation to be in, but Wesson approaches it with the idea that “their story deserves to be told, and I think I can do that.” The relationship is a lot closer because people don’t talk about trauma with just anyone.  

Wesson loves following up with old sources.  A month before the one-year anniversary of a source’s tragic loss, she decided to get a retrospective piece that was important for the neighborhood as well as the source. Wesson’s source expressed that no other journalist had followed up with her. They all forgot about her and nobody was talking about the tragedy anymore.

Regular civilian sources are easy to relate to. Politicians have to be handled delicately: “Oftentimes, politicians act like you work for them,” says Wesson. You must develop a trusting relationship with them to get the real story even if it sounds more conversational instead of just a canned statement from their crisis manager.

Law enforcement is the NYPD and they have procedures about talking to the press. “You just got to show up to things that the police do,” says Wesson. After attending monthly meetings for the 19th Community Council meetings that are open to the public, cops in the precinct now recognize her.  

She was at a protest in front of Gracie Mansion in August and didn’t have a press pass yet. “But then the commanding officer of the 19th precinct was there because it was his precinct. He’s like, no, no, that’s Nora. I know her. Let her through. She’s a reporter.” 

“It’s wild. It’s so fast paced. It’s so quick, but it’s also very varied,” says Wesson as she reflects on her career aspirations.  ”I do everything.”  

Our Journalism Concentration & Minor

The Hunter College journalism program is offered as a concentration or a minor within the Department of Film & Media Studies. Its curriculum is built around production courses in journalism and analytical courses in media studies. Learn more about our course requirements.

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