Camp snapshots: ThreeSixty welcomes Alejandra Matos

Alejandra Matos covers neighborhood issues and the Park Board as a recent Star Tribune hire.

ThreeSixty Journalism is extremely grateful — and always excited — to add new faces to the mentorship fold. A young addition to the Twin Cities schools and community beat, Texas native Alejandra Matos is coaching two campers about the finer points of journalism this week. ThreeSixty intern Madie Ley spent some time with Ale on the road and at the Star Tribune.

Alejandra Matos is originally from El Paso, Texas and came to Minnesota after interning at the Star Tribune while in college. Besides the Star Tribune, Ale also completed internships at Scripps Howard in Washington, D.C. covering hearings around the time of the BP oil spill and at the Boston Globe writing about crime in the area. Upon graduating from the University of Texas at El Paso, Ale took a job with the Star Tribune as a whistleblower columnist, exploring consumer protection issues.

One of her favorite journalism experiences involved a detention center in Sherburne County that was commingling immigration detainees with prisoners serving time. Spurred by the repeated sexual assault of an immigrant by his cellmate, a registered sex offender, Ale’s story caused a reaction among readers that eventually brought about change within the detention center. Seeing the impact a story can have on a community is one of the reasons Ale chose journalism as a career.

One of the most important lessons to learn in the field, Ale says, is listening to people and writing to make their voices heard. Reflecting on her prison story, she stressed the importance of being empathetic to sources. “Treat them as a human being, not just a source,” she advises young journalists.

While empathy is an important skill to have in the journalism field, it’s also one of the challenges Ale faces with her job. Other obstacles she experiences are dealing with difficult people and working on a deadline. Though Ale tends to write more weekly stories than daily, she claims neither one is easier. They both push writers up to their deadline. “Weekly stories are longer, and more in depth; it just varies,” she said.

Ale covers neighborhood issues and the Park Board at the paper, and is in the middle of a story involving the ongoing snafu between transportation services such as Lyft or Uber and taxi companies in the Twin Cities. With Uber and Lyft claiming they’re faster, safer and more convenient — and taxi companies arguing that there’s not regulations or requirements with alt-transport services — she’s got quite a mess on her hands.

To sort it all out and construct a story that’s accurate, Ale reveals — with a mix of chagrin and geeky satisfaction — her secret weapon: data requests. She requested all taxi complaints within the last two years and categorized them by subject to add a concrete, argumentative side to her story. “Feature stories are a little squishy, but you can’t argue with data, you can’t argue with the facts,” she says.

To extend her research even further, she’s taking to the streets with Star Tribune partner Eric Roper to experience firsthand whether the generalizations being made against taxis are legitimate. They plan to ride the taxis at night, around bar close, making various requests that are supposedly — and illegally — rejected by taxi drivers. Ale says these are her favorite kinds of stories; ones that are argumentative and backed up by data and facts. She enjoys writing them because they’re “indisputable.”

Some advice Ale offered to aspiring journalists: Listen to the people you’re talking to, don’t just focus on taking notes and looking for quotes, and to consume as much news and writing as you can. When she’s not writing and sifting through data at the Star Tribune, Ale loves biking around the Twin Cities, reading fiction, and is currently in the process of adopting a new puppy.