Faculty Spotlight – Vianna Davila

by Becky Larson

VIANNA DAVILA

Vianna Davila joined Texas State in ’14 as an adjunct faculty member. She also covers Transportation for the SA Express-News.

Starting Out…

Vianna Davila, when looking at her path to a career in journalism, said, “You never know, so put yourself out there.”

A native of San Antonio, Davila studied English at Rice University in Houston as an undergraduate. Her introduction to journalism came between her junior and senior years when she got a summer job at one of the San Antonio Express-News’ community papers.

“I cold-emailed the editor at the time and said, ‘you should hire me for the summer,’” she said, laughing. “I did not know any better. I shouldn’t have had that job, but if I hadn’t got it…”

Davila worked as an editorial assistant and community reporter that summer but would return, post-graduation, to a full-time reporting position – first covering the city’s West Side and then crime.

“It was good that I had done a lot of writing,” she said when recounting the experience of becoming a reporter without a journalism background.

“That was the thing that saved me. That and very patient editors. But I’ll say this again for my students, if you can write, you can really do a lot for yourself.”

When asked why, after five years working as a reporter, she decided to get her Masters in Journalism, Davila shook her head.

“The media wasn’t nearly as crazy as it is now. But I could already see it…I wanted more skills.”

Choosing a focus in documentary film, Davila left San Antonio for California, where she would spend the next two years at UC Berkeley.

Her thesis project, a 25-minute documentary titled “In His Blood,” followed a father-son team of freelance news videographers in San Antonio. It would go on to win best documentary short at the San Antonio Film Festival.

From Beat to Beat

After returning to San Antonio, Davila moved from covering crime to transportation, where she has written extensively about San Antonio’s controversial, and recently torpedoed, streetcar project.

The area was not one that Davila had realized would be as politically charged as it was. But the transportation beat, covering, for instance, new highway exchanges and a lack of efficient mass transit downtown, often brought wealthy suburban dwellers and lower-income downtown residents into direct conflict, and was “full of adrenaline.”

The Changing Industry

Although Davila has spent the better part of the past decade at a single paper, she says the changes in the industry have been dramatic.

“When I started nobody was asking me, ‘what is your web background? What are your interactive ideas?’ Now you have to be comfortable with that.”

She adds that she still firmly believes traditional journalistic skills are necessary and that new skillsets aren’t replacing them. That instead, “it’s about weaving them together.”

When asked about the role of social media and its importance, Davila says she sees it as a form of career capital.

“Absolutely, it’s important. Whether for networking or just to be out in the community. I don’t want people to go elsewhere [for this information]. I want them to come to me. Because that is job security.”

Passing It On

This is Davila’s third semester teaching an advanced reporting class at Texas State. She credits her desire to teach as one of the reasons she pursued her Masters.

“I’m passionate about the news and [high] standards and I like imparting that to students. Even if you don’t go into journalism, you should leave as good stewards of the news. We need educated people who know what’s happening.”

Asked about her hopes for the industry’s future, Davila said, “I hope that reporting – real, thorough reporting – doesn’t get lost in the drive for online page views. And I hope there is a change to stem the tide of information fragmentation – the fact that it’s so easy to get bits and pieces of news on social media and online worries me. I think that means it’s easy to ignore, say, the news happening in Africa, or the news coming out of Congress, if you only follow publications on Twitter and Facebook that don’t care about those things.”

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