A reporter’s first year at the COURIER

by Andrew Alonzo | aalonzo@claremont-courier.com

By most, 2021 will be remembered as the year we all got along with COVID-19 — interpret that either as humans learning to live with the reality of COVID-19 or just us being nice to a virus. However, for this COURIER reporter, 2021 will be marked as a year with many new beginnings.

When I was hired in March as a part-timer for the Claremont paper, I officially began my professional journalism and COURIER career. So far, I’ve made it nine months on the job, so hopefully I’m doing something right.

I’ve grown in many ways as a reporter here including learning how to shoot somewhat printable photos, write accompanying captions for said photos and how to write business profiles — something I never tackled even during my time at the University of La Verne. Also in 2021, I added new titles to my CV including business and general assignment reporter, and calendar guy (one of my favorites).

It feels like just yesterday when Peter Weinberger, Steven Felschundneff and I sat down at the round table in the COURIER’s office for a brief interview, yet that was in February. We had a 20-minute interview and I remember them asking about what I could bring to the table, to Claremont and to the news industry. I basically told them I was somewhat proficient in writing, filming and editing video and text.

In late February during my trial phase, I was assigned my first COURIER story, a profile about longtime Claremont lovebirds, Lillian and Louis Sergio. I spoke with the Sergios over the phone as COVID-19 prevented us from meeting in person and having a sit-down conversation. They shared their love story which “spans 70 years of marriage, nine European countries, two college-educated daughters, six dogs, 13 cats and over six decades of high school and college” instruction. The story was featured in February’s special, Today’s Parent.

In March the publisher asked me to focus on business revival in Claremont. I wrote my first business profile, “A relationship built on the love of cheese,” which covered Marnie Clarke’s Cheese Cave’s survival of the pandemic. I also met Larry Grable that month, the executive director of the Service Center for Independent Life.

In April I realized how much COVID-19 had really changed people’s lives. In our April special, we published the stories of two local dog groomers. One side was Sandra Piett’s Claremont business Personal Preference Pet Resort and Spa, which was on the brink of closing during the pandemic. On the opposite end was Yolanda Torres’s mobile pet grooming service, Splish Splash, which was seeing a bright spot during the pandemic.

On May 2, I began my journey as a 23-year-old but that story never made it to print. I wrote a profile on longtime Claremont High School theatre teacher Krista Elhai, who was lowering the curtain on her 37-year educational career.

On May 22, the CHS girls soccer team lost 1-0 against La Mirada High School during the semifinal game of the Division 2 CIF-Southern Section tournament.

On June 8 I covered two events on the same day. In the afternoon, Jean Scaduto Parafiorito was surrounded by friends and family at her 105-birthday party in Claremont, while in the evening, Ironbark Ciderworks hosted a poetry reading and concert to honor Pride Month.

On the morning of June 19, about 50 Claremonters showed up to Darlene Berg’s Longest Day event held at her gym, Endless Fitness. In the afternoon, a Juneteenth celebration was held outside of Stout House brewery in Upland.

In July I wrote one of my first feel-good stories about the the Girl Scout troop at Sycamore elementary school helping to supply migrant children housed at the Pomona Fairplex with essentials such as deodorant and soap and school supplies.

I also got to feel like a kid again for an afternoon when I ventured over to Claremont’s Girl Scout Camp La Casita on July 20. A week later I went from being around hyperactive kids to walking with seniors during a Get Walking Claremont session.

On August 14, I covered the Latino Art Museum’s post-pandemic reopening in my hometown of Pomona. The event also celebrated the passing of the museum’s founder and former director, Graciela Nardi, a longtime Claremont resident. On August 21, incoming freshmen and new students attending Pitzer College moved into their dorms.

In September, I learned about the power of Facebook. Though I was canceled online over a dog photo caption, I witnessed how important Facebook is to our readers, as the online platform allows them to directly interact with our stories and content. Without your constant push for accuracy or general curiosity for news, journalism would have been dead generations ago and this reporter would not have seen the error of his ways.

Also in September, Claremont welcomed a new veterinarian, Dr. Raymond Chae, founder and animal vet of Peppertree Animal Hospital.

In October two of my favorite pieces ran. One story was on Claremont’s newest fried chicken joint, Honeybird, while the second was about Pomona College geology professor Robert Gaines’s fossil discovery.

The CHS varsity football team made history in November when they made it all the way to the semifinals of the Division 9 CIF-SS playoffs. Though the Wolfpack lost to San Juan Capistrano’s St. Margaret’s Episcopal School in the semis 13-23, Head Coach Shane Hile and the Pack ended CHS’s 19-year curse of not being able to make it past the first round.

I think the picture of one-year-old Claremonter Leia Valiente was my best work of December. It also just sums up the whole month for me as I spent most of the time crying under stress. However, I just recently met the face behind the Miss America sashes and that was a one-of-a-kind interview. Angelique Barnum had never had a story written about her before being covered by the COURIER.

Though my career started just nine months ago, 2021 has brought me many highs and lows both at and away from work. A lot has changed in the 12 months that spanned 2021.

When I look back on 2021, I cringe at the person I was before, I know I’m growing as a person. At least that’s how I gauge personal growth, similar to my journalism growth. When I compare an article I wrote in college to one I write today, I’m mortified at how I constructed stories back then.

I hope 2022 brings me, and all of us, more personal growth. I hope to cover more stories that are close to readers’ hearts and create new relationships among the many friendly faces across this city.

Have a Happy New Year Claremont and let’s raise a pint to 2022.

— signed Andrew Alonzo, a kid from Pomona who wants to make you proud


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