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Alumni Spotlight // Young Alumni

BEYOND THE BYLINE

Santa Barbara Independent Reporter Kelsey Brugger `13

Kelsey Brugger `13 covers all the important local issues as a beat reporter for The Santa Barbara Independent. (Photo courtesy of Kelsey Brugger)

As the Santa Barbara County beat reporter for the award-winning weekly The Santa Barbara Independent, Kelsey Brugger `13 covers every facet of public life – from fires and court cases, to immigration, public projects, local politics and important issues surrounding her alma mater.

A native of Redondo, California, Brugger graduated from UC Santa Barbara with degrees in communications studies and public policy history. She was part of the UCSB Writing Program and the Education Abroad Program at UC Paris in France. She also worked as a student manager at the UCSB Bookstore.

Brugger landed her job at The Independent right after graduation. One of her first stories for the weekly newspaper featured the experiences of international students from her time as an EAP student in Paris. Since 2013, Brugger’s byline has become synonymous with hard-hitting investigative news about the important issues affecting local communities from Montecito to Santa Maria.

This fall, Brugger joined news veteran and UCSB Alumni Affairs Assistant Vice Chancellor George Thurlow `73 at Mosher Alumni House to talk to students about the past, present and future of print journalism.

This special career discussion featuring Brugger and Thurlow is part of the UCSB Alumni Association’s Food for Thought dinner series for students, featuring Gaucho hosts from different professional fields. "I hope to to help students better understand the daily life of a reporter," said Brugger. "I often find the field of journalism is mystified. I hope to provide an honest account of the job -- the good, the bad and the ugly."

In this Alumni Q&A, Brugger talks about her UCSB experiences, her work at The Santa Barbara Independent and her thoughts about being a journalist in today’s ever-changing media landscape.

Where did you grow up and what fascinated you as a young teen?

I grew up in Redondo Beach, California. As a kid, I was sort of a media dork. I had an appetite and curiosity about the world. And I liked to talk to people.

In the mornings before school, I read the newspaper and at 6:30 every evening, I watched the nightly news with my parents. I loved dramatic stories but always had a heavy heart when confronted with tragedy.

What drew you to study at UC Santa Barbara?

What didn’t? I toured several colleges in California but I simply felt at home on the UCSB campus. And it was impossible to find someone who didn’t have a great undergraduate experience.

What made you decide on your major?

I studied history of public policy (in part because UCSB, of course, does not offer journalism). I did, however, minor in professional writing, and took a journalism course -- the only university-level one I ever took. In that class, my professor taught us a cliche that stuck with me: "Journalism is history's first draft."

From there, I decided to study history of public policy (and get a minor in professional writing). My history courses were interesting and challenging, and filled with people who loved to debate. I fit right in.

How did your major help you in your current career?

History of public policy allowed me to study much of the foundation that shapes our nation and world, with a focus on the 20th century. Plus, the field taught me to pay attention to detail, ask questions and think critically. And there was a ton of writing.

Were you involved in any student organizations during your time at UCSB?

That’s a funny story. As a freshman, my mom urged me to join a club. I had worked at the UCSB Bookstore, where the first weeks of every quarter are always wonderfully hectic.

I was floored that my mom thought I had time for extracurricular activities. “I sell books,” I joked to her. It turned out the bookstore actually functioned like a club, and I learned a lot about working and communicating with people. And some of the people I met in four years there are my best friends today.

What were some of your first jobs right after graduation?

Two weeks after graduation, I was lucky enough to get a job at The Independent, where I had completed an internship.

Describe your job at the Independent. What do you love about your job? And what are some of your biggest challenges?

As a news reporter at the Santa Barbara Independent, I report and write a handful of news stories for each week's print edition as well as a number of articles for online, some of which are cut to blurb-length for print. I am currently the county beat reporter, meaning I continuously follow and cover a range of hyper-local issues from Montecito to Isla Vista to Santa Maria. The position requires awareness and observation, often well beyond the eight hour work day.

My days are rarely typical, which is one of the best parts about working at a newspaper. If a big story breaks, however, the entire newsroom drops whatever we’re doing. Reporters must always be aware of their surroundings — beyond the eight-hour workday.

If you could wave a wand and change one big problem in your profession, what would it be?

It can be exhausting to receive constant feedback — criticism and praise — on much of your work in a very public way. This is particularly true in the comments section.

That said, the comment section often has story tips.

Who are your role models? How important are mentors in your chosen field?

I have lots of role models, including the editors at the Indy and the late Noel Greenwood, a stellar newspaper editor who was kind enough to read many of my academic papers.

Why did you decide to participate in the UCSB Alumni Association’s Food for Thought program?

It's fun to talk to people who have similar interests. Also, given the ever-changing media landscape, I am interested to hear what current students think about pursuing journalism as a career. Does it sound possible? Does it sound fun?

What makes you proud to be a Gaucho today?

Meeting fellow Gauchos, who all seem to be bright, hardworking and fun.

What do you do during your days off?

I like to run and go to the beach. I’m lucky enough to live in Santa Barbara, after all.

Read all about it! Check out Kelsey Brugger’s work in The Santa Barbara Independent.

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