What is the story behind a People Magazine writer?
BTSCelebs is giving you the opportunity to get to know another special person behind-the-scenes of one of your favorite magazines. People’s Senior Writer Alicia Dennis virtually sat down with me to discuss her life before landing her dream job and some of her favorite things.
BTSCelebs: Who sparked your interest in journalism?
Alicia Dennis: I didn’t have a specific hero – I became interested in journalism reading the work of hundreds of reporters writing for regional as well as national publications. We got rid of our television when I was 7 and I read everything I could get my hands on, from our local paper to newsletters to papers around the country I could read in the library – real print copies pre-Internet that you had go to the periodicals section to get. Very geeky.
But I was lucky that my high school – Grace King High School in Metairie, Louisiana – had an incredible student newspaper and a wonderfully supportive teacher and adviser Kay Lestelle, who taught us about freedom of the press and pushed us to be objective and tell stories responsibly. It was a great experience and we were hands-on from designing the monthly to assigning stories to laying them out (this was in the days of waxers, pica tape and exacto knives) to going to press. We had editors, reporters, copy editors, photographers (this was in the days of darkrooms) and rushing to the printing press in the middle of the night. Sheesh, how old am I?
Describe 2 of the most important stories you covered in high school and college (one from each):
In high school, one day a few of my friends and I were wondering why there were chains put on the doors at the gym after school started and also wondering how safe that was since no one would be able to get out if there were an emergency. We decided to start asking around and weren’t getting any straight answers from different teachers and the custodian. Suddenly, we realized this could be a story and began to chase it like reporters. When the principal realized we were interviewing the fire department and looking up fire codes with a plan to write about it, I remember our adviser maybe getting told a school publication couldn’t print a story about how a school wasn’t safe and she was a supportive enough journalism teacher that she gave us the power to do it anyway. It was a heady, exciting example of how journalism could have the power to get questions answered on the record and to change things. The school ended up having to remove the chains, the fire department came to enforce the fire codes, it was all very exciting to a bunch of young reporters.
When I was in college, I reported on a march in Forsyth County, Ga. – 20,000 civil rights activists were protesting racial discrimination in the county that was thought to have no African-Americans living there at all (a government census showed there were 4 in 1960 and 1 in 1980) – and I was shocked by what the activists endured. I interviewed the president of Xavier University’s Student Government Association who drove from New Orleans in a van filled with protesters and told of the horrific slurs that were screamed at him by little children, just 8 and 9 years old, as they walked through the town. On their way home, their van broke down and he talked to me about how afraid he was to go into a local store to buy a new battery because he was verbally threatened by a man inside. I also interviewed the organizer on the other side of the march and was just as shocked at the things he was saying to me on the record. It was eye opening and hopefully opened up discussion about what was wrong in parts of our country and what might be done to change those things without it being an editorial at all, just by sharing what happened.
Why did you choose to cover these particular topics?
Both were important, change-the-world kind of topics to me. In retrospect, they were both about shining a light on stories that I believed needed to be told.
Growing up, who was your celebrity crush?
Shaun Cassidy. That feathered hair. That Da Doo Run Run song. Enough said. Likely too much said.
**Part 2 of my interview with Alicia is coming soon!**
A Special Thanks to Alicia Dennis for the interview and images.