In Visit to Campus, Alum Jessica Christian Sheds Light on Photojournalism

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Tuesday, October 2, 2018
Alum Jessica Christian

In between searching for structural damage at the Salesforce Transit Center and visiting a chocolate factory, photojournalist Jessica Christian spent nearly three hours on September 26 speaking with students at her alma mater.

Christian (B.A., ’15), a staff member at the San Francisco Chronicle, provided students in the Publication Laboratory and Photojournalism IV classes with her perspectives on news photography, internships and journalism careers.

She says serving as photo editor for San Francisco State’s student newspaper, the Golden Gate Xpress, made her to start taking photography seriously.

“What’s going to matter when you graduate isn’t the grades you received,” Christian says. “It’s the experience you get working on the Xpress. … I wouldn’t have achieved what I have if it weren’t for Xpress. I cherish it and I miss it, and it was only four years ago.”

At the Xpress, Christian and her “rare and talented eye” would break news before the Bay Area’s top news organizations, Assistant Professor of Journalism Sachi Cunningham says.

“She certainly came to my classroom with the type of talent that I cannot teach. However, she was always eager to hone these skills and learn as much as possible,” Cunningham says. “This, combined with her drive and dedication to journalism, made her the ideal student, and has been a gift to the Bay Area.”

Every day at the Chronicle, Christian faces pressure to meet three deadlines for her photo assignments. She touches base with editors and reporters throughout the day by phone, text and email. Her work is critiqued nonstop by editors and readers alike.

And she loves all of it, especially covering breaking news. This is a person who gets a rush from listening to police scanners in her spare time. “I love breaking news the most because there is no planning for it,” she says. “… You’re kind of a detective. You’re looking to find out what’s really happening.”

Christian landed her dream job at the Chronicle in her mid-20s, after she was photo editor of the San Francisco Examiner for about two years. At the Examiner, she won first place in the Greater Bay Area Journalism Awards for her photos of death-row inmates at San Quentin State Prison, The Nutcracker at San Francisco Ballet and homelessness.

She previously interned at both the Chronicle and Examiner, as well as the Jackson Citizen Patriot in Michigan. Her advice for getting internships: Be proactive in building relationships with professional journalists.

“Contact your heros in the journalism world. Cold-email them. Don’t wait for an internship opportunity to open,” she says. “Go the extra mile. Show the work you do outside of school.”

— Matt Itelson

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Photo by Sreang Hok