BOONE — A Northwest Cabarrus graduate just earned Top 10 honors in a National College Media Competition.
Abi Pepin, a senior at Appalachian State University, earned a seventh place finish — alongside her fellow reporter Moss Brennan — for her podcast which focused on national election coverage leading up to the 2020 presidential race at the National College Media Convention whose awards were announced virtually in January.
Pepin is the senior political correspondent for App State’s student newspaper, The Appalachian. She also worked alongside Watuga Democrat writer Brennan, who earned a second place finish for one of his stories in the leadup to the election.
Pepin has been with The Appalachian for a little more than a year and dedicated a good amount of last semester to her work on national election coverage.
“We worked like four out of five days of the school days every week working on election coverage up to Election Day. It was honestly my biggest priority, I definitely put that before my classes,” she said holding back a laugh, “but we worked (almost) all day, every day to prep for Election Day.”
Before joining the paper, Pepin wasn’t even a communication major. She was actually working toward her degree in political science at the time. Politics had always interested her, her mother and father were always discussing current events, and she loved to watch the news herself, but up until she got an opportunity with the newspaper she wasn’t quite sure what she wanted to do.
She has always loved to write. Her dad would joke with her in high school that when she was assigned an essay it made her day. So when she was taking an intro to communications class and her professor was talking about some opportunities to expand their portfolios she figured she would give it a shot.
“It kind of found me,” she said.
She continued: “I was a political science major but I did not want to just do that my whole life. But I liked the news, I’m always reading news and I like writing, so I went to an interest meeting for the newspaper … and I wrote my first story that week.
“My editor, who’s now the editor in chief, she was like, ‘You’re really good, we want you to stay, you’ve never even taken a journalism class but you (clearly) know what you’re doing.' So I kind of stuck with it and then I got invited to go cover the Bernie (Sanders) rally in Winston-Salem and I had a huge adrenaline rush. It was so awesome and I got back and I was like, ‘This is what I want to do.’ That night I changed my major to journalism.”
There were times she questioned whether or not this was exactly what she wanted to do. Journalism is a career very much in flux right now. Over the last few decades some colleges who have removed the option for editorial journalism majors and have moved toward journalism majors in general with focuses on all aspects of the field including broadcast, web design and advertising.
It’s a career with long hours that takes a firm commitment. Deciding on that as a career could be a challenge, but it’s one Pepin’s parents knew she was cut out for.
“This is what you want to do,” Pepin’s parents told her. “You’ve finally found what you’re good at and what you enjoy and what you’re literally obsessed with.”
Election coverage last semester was absolutely an obsession for both Pepin and Brennan who were obviously awarded for their efforts with the awards they were given. Their determination and hard work were even acknowledged by their new advisor Allison Bennett Dyche in an article with Appalachian Today.
“As I was returning, our student editorial staff already had a plan of how they wanted to cover the local, state and national elections, beginning at 6:30 a.m. and continuing after the polls closed in California,” Dyche said in the interview. “They were pumped up and excited about it, and while the coverage was intense, it was also a lot of fun.”
It was a whirlwind of a semester for Pepin but it was also one she not only enjoyed but got a lot out of.
“It was an awesome experience,” she said. “I learned how to do data and make graphs and how to upload articles to our website. Because I knew politics, but I didn’t know everything. I was learning as I was doing it. I was looking up, ‘Oh, who’s this senator? Who’s this person running?’ So it was fun but it was so exhausting.”
The Northwest Cabarrus graduate hopes to eventually turn that last semester into her everyday career. She wants to cover politics whether that be at the local level to start or even on Capitol Hill right out of college if she can swing it.
She’s not yet set up for a job, but she does have an opportunity this summer to get a firsthand look at her dream position as she will be going up to Washington D.C. for an internship where she will get to cover our nation’s political center up close.
She is part of a program that will place her at either a newspaper or TV station or website that will put her on the front lines of reporting on politics in the nation’s capital. This will give her a great look at what she could eventually do, but she won’t limit herself to that being her only option.
“It’s always been a dream of mine to live in Washington D.C., so politics kind of comes with that,” she said, “but I like politics more now that I’ve learned more about it, but I also just like news in general, so if that’s politics or pop culture I’ll be there for it.”
Pepin has already diversified well as she is the lead political reporter for App State’s newspaper and has a podcast so she will likely be well prepared for whatever is thrown at her once she gets to D.C.
That’s the hope for every student at App State and exactly what Dyche wants to see for everyone she oversees.
“It’s clear the future of journalism is creating a variety of content for different platforms,” Dyche said. “Students are experimenting with social media platforms, creating new ways to deliver information and working with video and audio. It’s great to see them take the theories and skills they’ve learned in the classroom and put them into action.”