Cronkite graduate finds new ways to tell stories after career change

Headshot of Laura Bargfeld

Laura Bargfeld

Editor’s note: This story is part of a series of profiles of notable fall 2022 graduates.

For Laura Bargfeld, the COVID-19 pandemic provided an opportunity to slow down and refocus on their career goals.

Bargfeld graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in creative writing with a minor in film and television in 2017 from the University of Arizona and was working at a movie theater and freelancing in film production. Once the pandemic hit, Bargfeld began to think of different ways to share their storytelling skills with the world.

That led Bargfeld to the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Communication at Arizona State University, where they will receive their Master of Mass Communication in December.

“I was always the coworker friend who was mad about the ‘goings on’ of the world,” said Bargfeld, who uses they/them/their pronouns. “Then I think I had a realization that if I was going to be irritated all the time by society, I should probably do something about that, and the skills I have are mostly in storytelling. So that kind of led to journalism pretty naturally.”

Bargfeld’s academic achievements led to them being named Outstanding Graduate Student for the fall 2022 convocation.

The Cronkite School offered Bargfeld travel experiences, fellowships and funding. First, it was the Cronkite Borderlands Initiative and a Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Southwest Health Reporting Fellowship. Then they participated in the Carnegie-Knight News21 national reporting initiative, which brings top journalism students from across the country to report and produce in-depth, multimedia projects for major media outlets. Bargfeld also worked with Cronkite News as a health reporter.

Bargfeld chose to use higher education as a tool of self-exploration and growth in order to help people tell their stories. Bargfeld hopes to enter another full-time journalism position after graduating but sees no rush because the pandemic taught them slowing down to learn and appreciate life is important.

Question: What was your “aha” moment when you realized you wanted to study the journalism field?

Answer: In undergrad, I majored in creative nonfiction writing, and I minored in film production. I had a roommate who was into film and her classes seemed cool, but I didn’t have some sort of deep plan. I did end up really enjoying working on film sets, so I had a day job working at an art theater in downtown Tucson, then I would take on different freelance film projects. Through that, I met someone who I ended up doing this long-form audio story about — intergenerational trauma and suicide loss. So this was in the lead-up to grad school, and then the pandemic happened as we released that.

I had been thinking a lot about what the next step of my life was going to be. It kind of felt like, ‘OK, I’ve spent a couple years hanging out, but I need to create a little bit of momentum.’ And a lot of things just felt like they were pointing to more serious storytelling in the form of pursuing journalism.

Q: What’s something you learned while at ASU — in the classroom or otherwise — that surprised you or changed your perspective?

A: I kind of walked into Cronkite having a lot of the skills, like writing, and I know how to do video. But the whole process of doing journalism — of really sourcing a story and working through that process and work structure — I don’t think there’s a single class in which I didn’t learn something completely new because I’ve never done anything like that before.

I remember coming in the first week. I went to one of my professor’s classrooms and I was like, ‘I have no idea what you were talking about today.’ I don’t know how to navigate a city government website, I don’t know how to do this, and I need to know more than every other citizen that I’m encountering about how to do this, so that I can help them learn about the world around them. So I needed assistance, and I feel like I was not only lucky to have professors that helped me figure that out and were patient with me as I was navigating even just how to email people properly.

Q: Why did you choose ASU?

A: I applied to a couple of different places, and I looked at a lot of different schools. I think something ASU does really well is they offer actually comprehensive multimedia training. They make their program really financially accessible to people. They have a lot of options to fund yourself, and I think that’s really invaluable. I felt like in the program I could kind of choose my own path. It didn’t feel so hyper-structured that I was just going to be reproduced as a clone of everyone around me, and I think they really valued what we wanted from the program. I appreciated that.

I was also really drawn to the many types of reporting I got to do. I got to travel internationally with that all paid for. I got to do national coverage and have that funded. I got to do beat reporting for a year, graduate with a year of beat reporting experience and have clips. That’s pretty cool.

Q: Which professor taught you the most important lesson while at ASU?

A: I feel like calling out any one professor makes it seem like the other ones weren’t awesome. I’ll nod to Pauline Arrillaga specifically because she got to see me develop as a storyteller and a reporter for three semesters. She supervised the health reporting initiative, and she got to see me come in and be like, “What is a lede?” And now I am taking on enterprise stories like nobody’s business. That’s pretty cool. I feel really lucky to have been mentored by her through that process and all that growth. I really appreciate that she valued all the skills I brought to the table and really focused on growing me as a reporter.

Q: What’s the best piece of advice you’d give to those still in school?

A: There’s a moment that every career-switcher, everybody who comes from a non-journalism background, has in this program, and arguably even people that haven’t and they’re trying new things. They really feel like, ‘What am I doing here? What right do I have to be doing this?’ The classic ‘I’m not good enough’ feeling. I guess my advice is to remember what you’re doing it for. It helps you through those moments when it just feels like you’re too anxious, you’re too nervous, you’re too scared, and you can’t possibly figure out how to do that in that timeline.

Q: What was your favorite spot on campus, whether for studying, meeting friends or just thinking about life?

A: I have specific friends I like to study with, but it honestly changes every month, where we go. I think Cronkite News is a pretty cool place to spend time, not just to work but to just exist in a place that’s very professionally built with a broadcast studio. If you’re coming into journalism and you have no experience, it helps you take yourself a little more seriously.

Q: What are your plans after graduation?

A: I don’t know, but I feel like those things work themselves out. I’m not too worried either way. I guess my larger plan is just to keep at it, apply for things, do some freelance and figure it out. I came back to grad school after time in the world, so I guess I have a bit of perspective.

I don’t know what I’m doing after graduation, but I do know that I don’t have to have that figured out right away. You spend the rest of your life figuring that out, and that’s fine.

Q: If someone gave you $40 million to solve one problem on our planet, what would you tackle?

A: Honestly, I’d probably try to find some people smarter than me to help me figure out what to spend it on. How far could I make $40 million go? I feel like, as a journalist, if there’s one thing I’ve learned, it’s that I don’t know most things. I can ask questions about most things. I can learn enough about a lot of things to ask good questions, so I think I’d be a journalist about it and investigate the best use of that money.

Written by By ChristyAnn Hanzuk