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American Journalism Review
Rising Stars  | American Journalism Review
 AJR  Features
From AJR,   August/September 2004

Rising Stars   

By Charis Granger & Elena Keithley
Charis Granger is a journalism graduate student at the University of Maryland.      Elena Keithley is an AJR editorial assistant.     

Here's a look at some of the up-and-coming journalists of color in the Washington press corps:

Mei-Ling Hopgood , a Washington correspondent for the Dayton Daily News and Cox Newspapers, wants to write stories that touch people's lives. "I'm interested in being a foreign correspondent, a columnist, investigative reporter," Hopgood says. "I'm interested in writing. I want to do good stories and I want to have an impact."

Hopgood's writing already has impressed many in the Washington press corps and around the country. Along with Daily News reporter Russell Corollo, she recently received the 2004 White House Correspondents Association Edgar A. Poe Award for a seven-day investigative series, "Casualties of Peace," on problems within the Peace Corps. She has also won several other awards for her work, including the 2004 National Headliner Best in Show Award, the 2004 Scripps Howard Foundation Distinguished Service to the First Amendment Award and the 2004 Best of Cox First Place Investigative Award.

Raised in the Detroit suburb of Taylor, Hopgood, who turns 31 on August 26, fell in love with the idea of learning about people and issues after participating in a Journalism Olympics program sponsored by Focus: Hope, a civil and human rights organization in Detroit. After graduating from the University of Missouri in 1994, Hopgood worked for the Detroit Free Press and the St. Louis Post-Dispatch and studied in Asia on a Freedom Forum Asia Fellowship for Journalists.

Hopgood, who began covering Washington in January 2000, would still like to see more diversity in the Washington press corps. "Every so often I'm the only person of color in various events, and that's shocking to me. Being a minority journalist doesn't make you a great journalist, but it gives you a different perspective. Bringing different perspectives to Washington is a very good thing."

New York Times Washington correspondent Jennifer 8. Lee is known for her impressive parties, her unusual middle name and the distinctly non-bureaucratic stories she files from the nation's capital. Responsible for coming up with pieces "people want to read and talk about," Lee, 28, brings a sense of freshness and fun to a press corps that can take itself awfully seriously, in a city rooted in the establishment. One of her recent stories, a feature on BlackBerry dating among D.C. singles, created a lot of buzz.

Lee graduated from Harvard University in 1999 with a degree in applied math and economics and interned at Newsday, the Boston Globe, the Wall Street Journal, the Washington Post and the New York Times. The Times hired her as a technology writer in January 2001. She also studied at Beijing University on a Harvard-Yenching Institute fellowship and spent three months in Mexico learning Spanish.

Lee, who is a member of the Poynter Institute National Advisory Board, received an award from the Asian American Journalists Association in 2003 for her coverage of Asian American issues.

Though Lee admits she never planned on ending up in Washington, she's happy with her gig. "This is a very good fit right now," she says. "I have an outsider's view of Washington, so I have a better eye for sociological observations."

Back when he was an undergraduate at the University of Miami, Rafael Lorente , now a Washington correspondent for the South Florida Sun-Sentinel, thought he would grow up to be a lawyer. Eventually, though, he realized he just couldn't see himself in the courtroom. Instead, the self-described "government junkie" decided to give journalism a try.

Aside from writing a few sports stories in high school, Lorente had next to no journalism experience, so he decided to attend graduate school at the University of Maryland.

After almost six years in D.C., the 36-year-old Lorente says it's the variety of assignments that keeps him on the Washington beat. He has covered the impeachment of Bill Clinton; the drama of Elián Gonzáles; the 2000 election and its tangled Florida recount; and the events of September 11 and their aftermath.

"No matter what, there's always a crazy story related to Florida," Lorente says, adding that his proudest moment as a journalist came on Election Night 2000 when the Sun-Sentinel, unlike so many news organizations, at no time declared a winner in the Florida balloting.

The son of Cuban immigrants, Lorente says his job is equally split between covering Cuban issues and national stories. His one frustration is that since the paper has only two Washington reporters, he sometimes feels like a "glorified general assignment reporter."

The Washington press corps, says Lorente, is gradually becoming more diverse. He suspects part of the reason progress has come so slowly is because "people come here and they don't want to leave," resulting in fewer openings.

Lorente says he feels lucky that the Sun-Sentinel has given him many opportunities as a minority journalist. "Too often," he adds, "people look at a black reporter and want to put him in a black beat, or [have] a Hispanic reporter covering immigration."

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