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Maria Sestito

Maria Sestito is the public safety reporter for the Napa Valley Register.

The first career day I ever spoke at was back in North Carolina at an elementary school. I was still in my early twenties and unsure that I was the best person for the task, but I loved being around kids and would probably say yes to most things my boss asked of me.

I tried to look professional and brought a bunch of newspapers along with me. I chose ones where my photos were on the front page, proving to them that not only was I legit, but also pretty darn cool.

As the children asked their questions, it was clear that their teachers had one goal in mind. They told me to explain how graduating from college had helped me get this job.

I wasn’t sure that it had.

Although I took a few photography classes, I didn’t major in photography or journalism. I hadn’t made a bunch of contacts in the journalism business and I didn’t even have a portfolio. I was a basically a bored military wife who couldn’t find a job and dreamed at working at the local paper. I figured it might be the only place in this little southern town where I could find my people.

I told the students that, more than anything else, I found my job by “networking.” I generally feel pretty terrible at deliberate networking, so, when I say it, I mean it in its simplest sense: talking to people.

“You know when you’re at the grocery store and your mom gets caught up talking to some stranger standing in line next to you? That person is me.”

Yes, children, I’m the one holding your parents hostage with chitchat. And, this talking to strangers thing that you’re told not to do, is exactly how I was hired at my job.

I was taking some photos at an event for a local women’s center when I saw this man with a very long lens on his camera. I know now that it was a 70-200 mm. In awe, I went up to him and said something stupid like: “Damn, that’s a big lens!”

When he turned around, I saw that he had a press pass dangling from his neck. We chatted a little and I gave him my phone number with zero hope that I’d ever get a phone call. “If you guys ever need any help,” I offered.

Maybe a week later – on Halloween – I received a call. “Still interested?” the man said.

I went outside the restaurant I was at and paced around the parking lot. I was so nervous and excited that my hands were shaking. Still interested? Was this guy bonkers? This was a dream come true.

A few days later, I had a conversation with his boss. I don’t think he looked at my resume and I didn’t have a portfolio – just a few photos from the women’s center event on Tumblr, a blog popular at the time.

He told me all the bad things about working for a newspaper and in journalism. Crappy hours, low pay, critical townspeople and editors, wear and tear on your car, body and mind. The conversation lasted more than an hour, maybe two. After he was done, he asked: “Are you still interested?”

“Yes, very,” I told him.

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