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Q&A: Nikki Roberti, teen mag publisher

Jenna Johnson

Nikki Roberti is only 20, but she has already weathered a Gawker blow-up and launched a magazine for girls that has a Christian slant, REALITY Check Girl Magazine. The magazine is available only online and has yet to make any money, but Nikki hopes to start publishing a print edition within the next few years -- and start paying herself and her staff members even sooner. Last week the site celebrated its 30,000th hit.

nikki_roberti.jpgThis semester Nikki is interning for the Scripps Howard Foundation Wire in the District as a multimedia reporter. Each semester the program selects about a half-dozen reporters, who receive stipends and live in a fabulous, free apartment near Adams Morgan. So far, Nikki has reported on Obama's current approval rating, the earthquake in Haiti and relief efforts there, and the March for Life.

Nikki grew up in Florida and is a junior journalism major at Appalachian State University in Boone, N.C.

1) Tell us about a typical day as a Scripps Howard intern.
We go to work and cover as much as we can, but we are highly encouraged to take time on our articles in order to develop in-depth pieces. No day is the same. Some days I go straight to news conferences before going into work. I've had days where I've walked miles around DC and others where I've spent all day on the phone finding sources.
The best part about the internship is that it's not the typical free labor ordeal. It's structured like school, in a sense that we get to experience and learn as much as we can. We get packets of assigned reading, which we later discuss as a group. We get tours and mini-classes on things like online research.

2) Where did you get the idea to launch your magazine?
Growing up, I loved magazines. At 12, I loved Seventeen magazine. My parents thought it was too worldly for me and tried to get me to read Brio magazine, a former Christian girl magazine. Brio seemed pretty lame to me most of the time and completely sheltering. I vowed that one day I'd find a good balance and bring a reality check to all girls in a way that was entertaining and informative.

When I hit a slump personally in college, I realized, why wait? I'm a firm believer in making my own opportunities, so instead of waiting until the "perfect time" to start a career as a magazine editor, I decided at 20 I would learn along the way.

3) So, what exactly is REALITY Check Girl?
REALITY Check Girl Magazine is a mainstream magazine founded on a Christian foundation and serves to provide entertainment, knowledge and support for young women of all faiths and demographics. Our seven sections spell out the qualities girls living in the real world need to possess: respect, elegance, ambition, love, intellect, taste, youthfulness.

REALITY Check Girl is not a Christian magazine, but covers all topics girls living in the real world face to provide current and supported facts, while also providing a section for Christian girls to find articles supporting their faith.

4) Who are your writers and editors?
Writers are girls ages (roughly) 17-30 who contacted me through Ed2010, word of mouth or by reading our site and liking what they see. Most of the editors are either personal friends of mine who believe in my project or others who have applied and are highly qualified for the position.

5) How did you build the Web site?
I did it with "For Dummies" books. I bought space with GoDaddy.com and used their backend to install Wordpress software onto my space. Once I did that, I bought a template from Studio Press and began customizing it piece by piece to look like what I wanted it to. It took a good summer to do it.

6) What should student journalists know about multimedia reporting?
I recommend getting really good at one thing, but also know enough about the rest of the stuff to get by. For example, I love making videos. However, I am also a photographer and audio editor if I'm called to do so.
Don't spread yourself too thin, but do dabble in a little bit of everything. I also recommend investing in your own equipment. You can't trust even the best of publications to have the kind of equipment you prefer.

7) How much time (and money) have you put into the site?
I've put in a little over 200 dollars. I'm pretty frugal. Time, that's debatable because it depends on what's going on that week and if it's near the next issue or right after it goes live. Sometimes I'm up all night working on it. I've spent hours advertising the stories through social media or working on special features for the site.

8) What has been the site's biggest success so far?
Our two most popular columns are "Married in College" and "Our Boy Troy." We also had a very popular article about volunteering on an Israeli army base, which one our writers wrote regarding her experience going to Israel to reconnect with her heritage.

9) Okay, I have to ask about the series of stories about pornography that you wrote for the student newspaper. They were mocked by Gawker, denounced by school administrators and eventually killed by the newspaper staff. What exactly happened?
I kept a quote in the story that was pretty graphic. I figured an editor would figure out how to paraphrase it. They decided to keep it in. The student body loved the article, and it started lots of conversation everywhere, which was exactly what I wanted.
I wanted to take a hush-hush issue and bring some light to it.

However, that one phrase, a bad title and awful, awful concept art all mixed together turned the entire piece into a mockery. Looking back on it, I realized that I should have taken complete ownership of that article and seen it through to the end.

It also taught me to have the thickest skin ever. What was a hot-button issue soon morphed into a freedom of speech issue, and I couldn't go anywhere for at least two weeks afterward without someone stopping me to talk about pornography or the fact that it was pulled. People wrote in letters to the editor and eventually people at the paper were just told to stop talking about it. It was a very sticky situation.

But I definitely learned a lot and am a better journalist because of it. I'm still not going to give up, though. I've done enough research on the social and psychological aspects of pornography to write a book on it, and that's exactly what I intend on doing.

10) You are a student, college newspaper reporter, online publisher and D.C. intern. How do you juggle everything?
My Google calendar. It helps me keep up with appointments and such while also keeping track of my boyfriend's calendar so we can at least make some time for each other. It's also just my personality. I like to do things. I NEED to do things.

11) What's your most valuable time management trick?
Listening to myself. If I'm trying to upload RCG Mag when I'm not in the mood, it'll take a long time and be an awful issue. If I need to take that time and do something else like go jogging or bake something, then I need to do that. Once you force yourself to do things, life becomes unenjoyable and things become more chore-like.

12) Top three priorities on any given day?
God. Family. Friends. Forget those and you forget yourself.

13) How do you reward yourself after a crazy week?
I usually cook. That's my all-time reward. I love, love, love cooking and especially cooking for others. I'll make chicken with a white wine sauce over pasta or an amazing veggie chili with quesadillas. Baking is great too, especially in the PJs and with friends. And if it's been a really crazy week, I chuck all the intellectual and productive stuff I like to do and engage in mind numbing activities like watching "The Bachelor" or reading teen magazines like I did when I was 12.

By Jenna Johnson  |  February 2, 2010; 11:00 AM ET
Categories:  D.C. Interns  | Tags: Campus Media, Internships  
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