Triumphs for Traci Lee

Courtesy of Traci Lee

Oh, the places you’ll go when you pursue your dreams, your goals! What people you’ll meet, and what experiences await you!

For Traci Lee, a UC Irvine literary journalism alumna from the class of 2011, her passion for journalism has taken her from Irvine to Maryland, where she worked as an intern for NPR for several months, and then to New York, where she is currently working as an associate producer for MSNBC.

Lee, who was a former Managing Editor of the New University and also the 2011 Humanities commencement speaker, shared with me her experiences and gave some advice to current Anteaters.

Jun Im: You’ve lived in Irvine, Besthesda (MD) and New York City, all within a year. How has it felt living in these cities and then moving not long after?

Traci Lee: It’s felt really unsettling to move so many times. After leaving Irvine, I knew I wanted to give the East Coast a try, but had no realistic idea about how I’d actually get there. It was exciting and scary to live in so many new places, but I kind of like being in one place for an extended period of time right now … it’s nice to not be living out of suitcases all the time!

JI: How has it felt to have worked at both NPR and MSNBC?

TL: I’ve been really lucky to have had a mix of great work experiences. NPR was amazing, and […] I learned a lot while I was there by observing how NPR reports the news, and […] one of my favorite things about interning at NPR was the great group of interns I got to meet and work with on Intern Edition. It was nice to meet a bunch of people who were in the same place as I was — new graduates also trying to navigate the waters of working in national media. As for MSNBC, it’s been really cool jumping in during the thick of the election season. I’ve also gotten to cover some pretty cool stories for — the New York Giants Super Bowl victory parade, the NYC Gay Pride March, Occupy Wall Street’s one-year anniversary, election night…

JI: Can you elaborate on your coverage on Occupy’s one-year anniversary? It seemed to be under the radar in terms of coverage this year.

TL: My coworker, who shot the video for that day, and I met up very early to seek out the meeting place for the protesters. By the time we got down to Zuccotti Park, I’d already seen more cops than I’ve ever seen in my life. The day was pretty surreal — NYPD had set up this huge barricade around Wall Street and you couldn’t even get close to the NYSE without showing a work ID.

The police were a lot more intense than I had anticipated […] By 8:30 a.m., cops were pulling people off the sidewalk and arresting them with no just cause […] Journalists were arrested too, and I was almost one of them if it hadn’t been for a protester behind me, who was much bigger than me, who picked me up and threw me far back into the crowd so one of the officers who grabbed me couldn’t arrest me. I acquired a lot of bruises that day.

JI: Describe the atmosphere at MSNBC during Election Night.

TL: I ran the MSNBC Twitter account on election night, which was a lot more work than I thought it would be. We tweeted poll closing times and I had to monitor all of the articles we had flowing out of throughout the night […] so I could tweet them too. We also were not allowed to make any calls until the NBC Decision Desk did so. Once they did and told us, we would have to wait for Rachel Maddow to announce it on air before it could be tweeted and put online. So there was a lot of yelling across the room at each other and making sure we were all very careful to not mess up.

The night moved so fast. We’re all actually very surprised the race was called before midnight — we were expecting it to go well into the early morning hours! After we made the call, the night definitely didn’t stop for us. I didn’t make it home until 3:30 a.m., and then I stayed up to finish a roundup post I was writing for about the same-sex marriage initiatives four states voted on so the post could be published in the morning. And then when I woke up the next morning, it was back to work for more!

JI: Will you share some advice for current UCI students, particularly for the freshmen and for those who will graduate?

TL: Current UCI students, get involved on campus. It can seem daunting at first, but it’s the best way to get to know the campus and really feel a part of its culture. Also, go to a School of the Arts performance — a concert, a play, an art show, whatever, and to a UCI Athletics game too. Just make the most of every thing, even if the experience isn’t as great as you think it is at the time, because it will be something to look back on and talk or laugh about later.

For those about to graduate, do not let the idea of the future overwhelm or paralyze you. Life is going to keep moving forward whether you’re ready for it or not. Don’t let the idea of the future scare you too much from taking risks. Also, it’s okay to not know where you’re headed once you leave the Irvine bubble. Uncertainty is part of the adventure toward the future. I had no idea what I really wanted to do or where I wanted to go except for these vague notions of wanting to do something in media or with writing, and I wanted to potentially live on the East Coast … it took awhile to get here, but looking back on the journey, it’s been pretty cool.