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Alex Garcia

Featured Professional: Alexandra Garcia

Alexandra is an Emmy-winning video journalist at The Washington Post.

Alumna Alexandra Garcia Takes Backpack Route for Washington Post

Six years ago Alexandra Garcia was like many of the students she spoke to on Thursday, Oct. 28, in Professor Bill Gentile's Photojournalism and Social Documentary class – an American University communication major with a passion for photography and graphic design. Today Alexandra is an Emmy-winning video journalist at The Washington Post. The Post has made a name for itself as one of the forerunners in online video journalism and has set the standard for newspaper video journalism.

On Tuesday, two days before her visit, Alexandra took the time to answer some questions about her career path by email. She wrote that her connections with AU professors really helped her get her foot in the door.

“My professors believed in me and helped me connect with journalists in the field that I could consult as I was getting my career started,” she said.

Alex Garcia

Her break came when Professor Gentile recommended her to Tom Kennedy, she said. Kennedy was the director of multimedia for washingtonpost.com at the time, and is credited for setting The Post up to become a leader in the field.

For Alexandra a web photo internship became a web photo job, and eventually she transitioned to video journalism. To make that transition, Alexandra produced multimedia projects in her spare time, while she was editing photos at night. Finally when she had proven herself, she got the job as a video journalist.

Now an average day is anything but boring.

“There isn't really a typical day!” Alexandra said. “I have three types of days: Shooting days, where I am photographing what I need for a story, editing days, and planning days.”

What makes Alexandra's work even more amazing is that often she does it as a one-woman-band, meaning she films, captures audio, takes still photographs, conducts interviews, writes and edits the stories all by herself. This style of backpack journalism is becoming more common at news organizations across the board. To make it even tougher, Alexandra sometimes films using the Canon Mark II 5D, a DSLR which shoots beautiful video, but requires her to record audio on a separate device. 

She described for the Photojournalism class how she packs for a shoot – the camera in one hand, a Marantz audio recorder on her hip with a wireless transmitter attached to it, a fanny pack in front of her with a long lens and a shotgun microphone inside, a tripod – you get the idea. She says it's hard but worth it for the intimacy that backpack journalism offers.

“Because I started in still photography, I really like the tradition of documentary photography that the one-woman-band tradition is based on. I feel like I can get more intimate interviews and scenes than I could if I was a part of a traditional television crew. I think it works quite well for some stories, but for other stories, a collaborative approach can also work well,” Alexandra said.

The story she has done which impacted her the most, she said, is one about a temporary free medical clinic in Virginia. 

“The Healing Fields: Hidden Hurt [is] a video about the hundreds of people who travel to Wise County, Va. and wait in long lines for the free medical care provided by Remote Area Medical. I was shocked to see the number of people spending the night in their cars and in long lines for dental care and was humbled by the number of people who were so honest with me about being uninsured,” Alexandra said.

The story won her an Emmy nomination in 2009.

Alex Garcia

Photos by Areeb Zuaiter

Alexandra offered the students in the Photojournalism class Thursday some advice for their own internships from her experience.

“To really stand out as an intern there [at washingtonpost.com] I felt like I had to be able to do everything,” she said.

She said that it is important for students who are interested in becoming photographers to also know and take classes in video, web coding, and visual writing. She also said in order to move your career forward it's essential to network and be confident.

“Work hard. Meet a lot of people and keep in touch with them,” she said. “Think about where the industry is going, and make sure you are prepared to be a part of it in the future.”

Maria Howell, a first-year MFA student in the SOC film division, was in attendance to hear Alexandra speak. This semester Maria is a video intern at The Washington Post. She is hoping to follow in the alumna's footsteps. 

“I definitely feel very optimistic about the field,” Maria said. “I feel it's in high demand and the market is growing.”

Notes from Bill Gentile:

We selected Alex Garcia as this month’s Featured Professional not only because of the quality of her work. We selected her also because the path she took so resembles that taken by visual communicators acquiring new skills with the ever-changing technology that has revolutionized our craft.

Alex went from student (she was a student photographer in my Photojournalism and Social Documentary class), to intern at WashingtonPost.com, to full-time staff photojournalist/backpack video journalist/editor there, to Emmy award-winning, multi-media practitioner. She has learned to do it all.

And if you look closely, you can see evidence of her journey. Alex’ background in photojournalism, where she learned the fundamentals of lighting, composition, shape and form, is evident in the work she does today. Powerful images are the engine inside the messages that we visual communicators construct. Nothing moves very well without them.

Alex began learning the power of imagery as a still photographer but it is her embrace of technology and new skills that has made her a successful backpack video journalist today. She now finds herself on the cutting edge of her craft.