Northeastern alumna Paxtyn Merten, who graduated from the School of Journalism in May, is now working as a Staff Writer at the Puget Sound Business Journal, where she covers technology, transportation, and education. As a student, she help various co-op positions, including ones at the Open Data Science, a data science blog operated by the Open Data Science Conference, and at the journalism nonprofit MuckRock, both based in Cambridge. She also served as both Editor-in-Chief and Managing Editor of The Huntington News, Northeastern’s independent student newspaper. We had the opportunity to catch up with her to learn about her reporting role, some professional highlights so far, and how she is putting her Data Science minor to great use. Read more below!
Tell us about your role as Staff Writer at the Puget Sound Business Journal. What are your responsibilities?
As a staff writer for the Puget Sound Business Journal, I write several stories a week on technology, transportation and education in the region as they relate to the local business community. In Seattle, that means reporting on tech giants Microsoft, Zillow and Expedia, and on the region’s developing light rail system. It’s up to me to break news and feature interesting companies and individuals in this space.
Any professional highlights so far?
Earlier this month, I was able to incorporate some of the coding skills I learned in my data science coursework at Northeastern into my work.
I coded an algorithm that cleaned the state’s fairly comprehensive education data and used it to rank our region’s top elementary schools by a variety of factors.
This is something my office has done for a few years, but by using code instead of complex Excel equations, I was able to cut down the time it took to produce this popular ranked list and do it in a more accurate and reproducible way. I was super excited to be able to use those skills and to see them make such a difference in the ease and quality of my work.
My company also hosts loads of events for our local business community, including some that are particularly focused on providing spaces for women in various industries to come together and talk about some of the main issues they face at work. These are my favorite events we put on because I get to learn from women who are thriving in leadership capacities in often male-dominated industries, and the energy in the room is amazing as women at all stages of their careers learn from and empower each other.
How did your co-op experiences and your work on The Huntington News help prepare you for this role?
I worked at this paper last summer as one of the three internship experiences I was able to squeeze into my last year at Northeastern. That co-op helped me get this job immediately post-grad, for one, but also helped me get into the groove of hyperlocal business reporting so I could hit the ground running when I started full-time in May.
My previous work with The Huntington News also prepared me for this role, in that I had already spent two years producing hyperlocal journalism before that internship — albeit for a very different audience. My years of covering events, interviewing, doing comprehensive research, digging into public records, and featuring notable groups and individuals in the community helped me prepare in a big way for my internship at Puget Sound Business Journal. Plus, the experience I got during my time at Northeastern reporting locally and abroad on topics ranging from new trends in data science to international crises gave me the most valuable skill a journalist can have: the flexibility to write about anything that comes my way.
You graduated with a Data Science minor. Tell us about how this fits into the field of journalism.
I decided to add this minor because data makes journalism more tangible, more powerful and usually more truthful. A minor in data science fit seamlessly into my studies. I learned programming basics and various coding languages in my data science coursework while learning the best uses of data in storytelling in my journalism classes. My data science classes especially added to what I learned in data journalism-specific classes, which I found especially valuable because they combined my two passions. As I said, I recently began to apply some of my coding skills directly to my work, which I plan to do more of.
Along the way I’ve also found the problem-solving skills and different frame of thinking that my data science coursework instilled in me has helped me be more effective throughout my work here.
Anything else you’d like to add?
The interdisciplinary education I was able to get at Northeastern truly prepared me a lot for the working world. Forging relationships with professors and getting individualized mentorship from those professors who had worked in the particular areas of journalism I was interested in was also very unique to Northeastern and a huge part of my professional development. The opportunity to work full-time while still in college was also crucial as a journalist, where the stories you produced, your work experience and the skills you have are critical. I truly think Northeastern is an ideal place to get a comprehensive journalism education that’ll prepare you for life.