From Crew to the SF Chronicle, Alumna Makes Waves

By
April 8, 2004

Mills College Weekly

A bashful writer who would slip a story under an editor’s door
in the middle of the night now relishes in her career as a
full-time writer on a major metropolitan newspaper. Mills alumna
Meredith May’s name can be found showered over the pages of the
San Francisco Chronicle.

May attended Mills from 1987 to 1991, where she was in Sarah
Pollock’s very first journalism class. She knew she wanted to be a
journalist, but as graduation rolled around, May had no real
plan.

“I like to say I majored in crew,” said May, as she spent
hundreds of early mornings out at Lake Merritt rowing in college,
and continues to do so today with the Lake Merritt crew team.

After graduation, May continued a paid internship that she had
throughout her senior year. She also did some free-lancing. Paid by
the story, she was living in an illegal conversion of someone’s
home in Berkeley and barely able to pay her rent.

“I had no money, but I was happy,” said May.

After about a year of free-lancing, May wrote an independent
story on female bungee jumping that she hoped could get her a
permanent job.

“I was too embarrassed to talk to anyone over at [the East
Bay Express
], so I slipped my story under the door in the
middle of the night!” May said.

About six months later, the East Bay Express ran her story on
the front page and paid her $700 for it, which was significantly
more than she had ever been paid before, and gave her the
encouragement needed to launch her career.

In 1992, May landed her first permanent writing job at the
Hayward Daily Review doing the obituaries. After six months
of making even the obituaries compelling reads, she was promoted to
the news section.

May then accepted a higher paying job for the Antioch
Ledger
, in east Contra Costa County. She wondered why she ever
accepted that job, as it seemed at first to be such a mundane
place.

“I was the court reporter, and my first job was about a drive-by
cow shooting,” she said.

As time passed with the Antioch Ledger, it became one of
the most rewarding times of May’s life. “I was working with an
intelligent, great crew of people,” she said. “It was hot, young
and creative!”

After two years in Antioch, May moved to the West County
Times
, taking the position as the poverty reporter right in the
midst of the Welfare Reform Act, which meant major coverage of
economic change in the community.

This is when she began winning awards and was noticed by the
Chronicle. May was well aware of the Chronicle‘s
expansion.

“I was gunning that position really hard,” she said.

She was hired as a reporter who specialized in education,
because of her work with poverty-stricken families at the West
County Times
, and because she was fluent in Spanish.

Late last year, May was promoted to doing general assignment,
“GA,” where she was able to pick and chose her assignments. “It’s
perfect for me,” said May.

Currently, May is working on a five-day series on a boy from
Iraq who was injured in a landmine. After surviving against all
odds, the boy was air-lifted to Oakland Children’s Hospital, where
he is recovering. May goes to visit him almost every day, and
another reporter is being sent to his home in Iraq to talk to his
family.

Later this year, May will travel to Greece to cover the Olympic
Games. Currently, she is looking at local hopefuls.

“There is a woman wrestler, a kayaker and swim trials coming up
in Long Beach,” May said. “Journalism is usually a lot more mundane
than this,” said May.

Her life outside the newsroom involves rowing with the Lake
Merritt Crew Team, as well as scuba diving and spending time with
her new wife Dara Altobelli. The couple was married on Feb. 16. May
can also be found walking her golden retriever or tutoring children
at San Pablo Middle School.

May has always made time for life experiences outside of her job
and school.

“My approach to school was that it’s not the end-all, be all,”
she said. “There has to be room for life in there!”

In her time at Mills, May wrote for the Daily Cal, and
actively participated in the strike against Mills becoming
co-ed.

When asked how she thought Mills influenced her life, May said,
“Mills put me in an environment with very strong women. When I left
Mills, I could pick up on offensive comments to women and notice
when we were being discriminated against. Had I not [gone to
Mills], I wouldn’t be able to see that when it comes up in
work.”


From Crew to the SF Chronicle, Alumna Makes Waves was published on April 8, 2004 in Features

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