Internship propels Ashley DeLeon ’23 — a motivated journalist on the rise

Executive editor of Saint Michael's campus newspaper pleasantly surprised when summer working for VTDigger turns out to be authentic fast-paced professional journalism experience

August 4, 2021
By Laura Hardin '22

Ashley DeLeon ’23

From Defender editor to full-blown reporter for VTDigger, Ashley DeLeon talks about her aspirations, the tasks of her internship, and life as a Media Studies, Journalism and Digital Arts major.

“As early as ten or eleven years old, I knew I wanted to be a journalist,” said rising junior, Ashley DeLeon ‘23. The New York City native and editor of the Saint Michael’s campus newspaper The Defender recently secured an internship with the Vermont online news source VTDigger based in Montpelier.

DeLeon said as a young girl she found herself inspired by the way broadcasters engaged with the audience on the other side of the television screen. “What journalists do meant a lot to me even then,” said DeLeon. “I love stories, I love engaging with people, and I would never just want to sit in an office doing the same thing every day.”

She speaks highly of her Saint Michael’s journalism professors and writing experiences with The Defender and College Marketing Office, saying she felt well-prepared when she started her search for an internship in the field this spring, though her efforts at first felt a bit like an uphill battle.

When not many opportunities presented themselves, DeLeon said, she felt discouraged. However, Kimberly Sultze and Jon Hyde, both professors of the Media Studies department, reassured a low-spirited DeLeon that an opportunity would present itself. “They really pushed me to do an internship for the summer, and it really motivated me to find something,” she said.

“I was poking around the web, and there were not too many options available” said DeLeon. “In the perfect world, I knew I wanted to come back to Vermont, so I thought about VTDigger.” As a fan of the online news source and its high-quality stories that she frequently would thrill to read on the site, DeLeon decided she would just send in some writing samples and hope for the best. That done, she also applied to multiple internships in her home state of New York and various remote internships, but VTDigger was her only outreach in state of Vermont.

Not even a week after sending her samples in, DeLeon said, she received a phone call from one of the senior VTDigger editors, who mentioned via voice message that editorial leaders there had an interest in further discussing her application and writing samples.

Her initial thought was that by returning the phone call, it might serve as the next step of a vetting process for a possible internship in the form of a preliminary phone interview. She eagerly called with that expectation, but was surprised and thrilled to discover that the phone call was in fact the publication offering her the job, right there on the spot.

“I was so shocked,” said DeLeon. She said the moment that meant the most to her during the call was when the editor mentioned that he and others on the staff already had read the writing sample she had sent in long before they talked — apparently somebody at VTDigger had noticed and admired her Defender piece from the fall and brought it to the attention of the editor, unbeknownst to her. “They had seen and previously knew about what I wrote for The Defender months ago, and now they were saying they want me to write for them!” DeLeon said.

When originally learning of the internship early in the summer, DeLeon first imagined that she would follow current reporters around, witness their daily tasks and learn what it means to work in a publication from an intern’s perspective – but quickly she learned how different the reality would be. Right away, DeLeon was told to not refer to herself as an intern because that would simply not be the case. She was thrown, sink or swim, into the world of professional daily journalism, working full-time as a reporter for the publication.


A protest in Essex after an incident involving police and allegations of racism was among recent stories Ashley DeLeon covered for VTDigger this summer.

Although the VTDigger Montpelier office is still closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic and DeLeon is working from her campus dorm, “reporting does not always happen from home,” she said. Now, as the end of her summer experience as a professional reporter draws near, DeLeon has found some consistency. She explained her routine:

“On Mondays I go to a morning meeting for the newsroom with other editors, reporters, and photographers,” she said. “We talk about potential stories, what we are working on and things that are happening. After that I get an assignment; I sometimes write news briefs, stories, and I have done dailies and I have done a breaking news story.”

Such unpredictability, however, does not bother DeLeon. In fact, she prefers the pressure of a tight deadline. DeLeon joked that she “enjoys the rush” and that “the most time I will have for a story is about two days – and that is pushing it,” she said. “I’ve had stories that needed to be ready in a mere few hours.”

This summer has given DeLeon a glimpse of what she aspires to do post-graduation. “I really wanted to hone my writing and reporting skills,” she said. Feeling grateful for the opportunity of this internship, DeLeon emphasized just how much the MJD [media studies, journalism and digital arts] department has propelled her forward in her career.

“I love all of the professors in the Saint Michael’s MJD department,” said DeLeon. “Every single one played a part in me getting this internship – and that is not exaggerating.” While mentioning most professors in the department — Jerry Swope, Jon Hyde and Kimberly Sultze — and how they cheered for her along the way, DeLeon specifically highlighted her time in MJD 205: Reporting for Media with Allison Cleary. “I had a great experience in that class,” she said. “I would submit my work and truly believe that it was the greatest story I’ve ever written.” However, DeLeon would get a page covered in corrections in return. “I really appreciated that,” she said, “I liked the criticism because it taught me there is always room to improve. I knew the blatant honesty would propel me forward in my career.” She also said she was grateful to Professor Swope for allowing her to lead The Defender both last spring and this fall.

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“Another funny story about Allison Cleary is that one of the first times I met her, I was sitting by the nook in Jeanmarie that had all of the MJD professor’s offices,” said DeLeon. “Cleary walked in, looked at me and said you’re a reporter. This really inflated my ego,” she joked, “but I will always remember that.”

Besides her classes preparing her for her spot at VTDigger this summer, DeLeon went on to describe her other experiences with writing, specifically mentioning her time in the Marketing Department at Saint Michael’s as a student writer. “Writing one to two stories a week for marketing has really prepared me for the stories that I write in a day,” she said.

DeLeon has many hopes and aspirations for her future in reporting and news writing. She hopes to bring representation of a diverse population into the news industry. “I hope to bring that perspective into future newsrooms while advocating issues that affect my communities,” she said.

In the end, DeLeon plans on returning to her former position as the executive editor for The Defender in the upcoming fall semester. However, she hopes her position at the VTDigger will pave the way for any future endeavors. [One day] “you will see my face on the TV, reporting the news,” said DeLeon of her post-graduation goals. “I knew I would succeed in my dream of becoming a journalist — just not as soon as 19 years old.”


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