Alumna follows her journalistic instincts

Lauren Harrison '07 enjoys career as Newsday reporter

A fast-talking tag sales guru with a criminal past. Toys that double as works of art. The faces of boudoir photography.

Lauren Harrison '07 spills the details of peoples' lives for a living. The 26-year-old Roanoke alumna is a features reporter for Newsday, a daily newspaper in New York. Earlier this year, she won a diversity fellowship for her work from the Society for Features Journalism, which represents reporters nationwide.

Harrison's gig fits her penchant for creativity and curiosity.

"I wanted to have readers feel like they could smell and taste and see and touch right along with me," said Harrison. "Features journalism provided that medium."

But a news career was far from Harrison's mind when the Ohio native landed on Roanoke's campus in 2003. She was passionate about poetry and creative writing, but her career path was unclear. Several Roanoke influences helped Harrison channel her journalistic instincts.

She dabbled in journalism while spending a semester in Washington D.C., through the Lutheran College Washington Semester Program. She interned at a literary magazine, Beltway Poetry Quarterly, and for a web publishing company, Web del Sol. She also wrote arts and entertainment stories under the guidance of Michael Knipp '03, a freelance writer who referred assignments to her.

Back at Roanoke, Harrison took on a documentary project. Video camera in hand, she followed her family's ancestral trail to many places, including West Virginia, Pulaski and Appomattox. She found gravesites, scoured birth and death records and even uncovered a church that one of her ancestors founded.

"She was one of those rare students who have genuine deep curiosity. She wanted to understand things," said Dr. Virginia Stewart, an English professor at Roanoke and Harrison's supervisor for the project.

"I saw her as a documentary journalist," Stewart said.

Harrison was hesitant, but she applied for graduate school at Columbia University's School of Journalism anyway. She won a full tuition scholarship.

Fast-forward to the present when Harrison spends her days and some evenings and weekends reporting on arts, culture and entertainment in Long Island, N.Y., for Newsday. After graduating from Columbia in 2008, she covered a variety of news at the Chicago Tribune through a two-year residency program.

Harrison's work at Newsday spans vast subjects, from aerial fitness classes in which participants suspend themselves midair to folding enthusiasts who teach origami art.

"She's always looking for the human element in her stories," said Shawna VanNess, deputy features editor at Newsday.  "She's looking for that eureka moment that sort of marks a benchmark in that person's life."

Harrison is one of the youngest reporters at Newsday. Most journalists land there after years of experience in the field, VanNess said. Still, Harrison's skills and competitive spirit impressed the editor.

The young reporter showed particular investigative initiative with a story this year about a tag salesman who landed on a reality television show. She learned that he pleaded guilty to felony grand larceny charges in a Medicaid fraud cause years earlier.

"That's the kind of thing that's priceless to an editor," VanNess said. The story "was thorough, and it was compelling."

But the thrill of news writing has its challenges for Harrison, including learning how to manage reader criticism and working fast and accurately on tight deadlines.

Eventually, Harrison said she'd like to write a book and explore creative projects, alongside journalism.

"All of those things can live's just about timing," she said.

- Jenny Kincaid Boone '01

Released: December 13, 2011