Lea Thompson: Finding the Life Behind the Story

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Visiting Park Güell in Barcelona, on a trip to retrace my family's roots.

Editor’s note: Lea Thompson began working as a freelance contributor to the Rivard Report one year ago, and joined our staff as a fulltime reporter and assistant editor in late 2015.

Great stories sustain me. Regardless of genre, the best stories take complex ideas and events and make them accessible. They dig deep to expose the ugliness and beauty of everyday life, and when that becomes too heavy, stories remind us that we have a soul.

I wrote my first real story for a citywide writing contest hosted by The Houston Chronicle when I was 10 years old. It was, admittedly, pretty terrible. But it was the first time I saw my name and work in a newspaper. It was the first time I shared my writing with people outside of my family. My shyness was forgotten when my classmates excitedly asked me about the story. I realized writing could be used as a temporary distraction, or a powerful tool. I haven’t been able to stop writing since.

Writing got me through moves from Houston to San Antonio to Austin and back. It got me through my parents’ divorce, the news that my Dad had passed away, bad injuries and disappointments. I discovered journalism, which allowed me to write for others. It allowed me to be part of the conversation and bring the conversation to new people and places. 

When life pushed me to speak up, to be stronger, I could write my way through it. I wanted to tell stories in multiple formats, so I decided to pursue photography as well. Writing can give people a voice, photography can give them humanity.

I intended to take a single photography class at San Antonio College in 2008, but I stayed another year to work at The Ranger newspaper. My professors challenged me to improve my news gathering and multimedia skills to deliver great stories and reach new audiences. 

In 2009, I left for St. Edward’s University in Austin, where I found a talented photo community and professors who demanded a more in-depth approach to storytelling and a balance of professionalism and passion.

My favorite assignments usually have a focus on food, art, place changing projects and culture. Every story challenges me to grow and it’s important to me that my work is thoughtful and respectful to its subjects.

After I graduated from college, I worked as a blogger, a freelance writer and photographer, and a staff reporter for print and online publications, companies and nonprofits. I left Austin in late 2013, and returned to San Antonio, and was surprised by how much the city had grown without me. I threw myself into freelancing and learned everything I could about San Antonio’s story, its strong history and culture, and how I could fit in to make it my own.

Rosa Huriega in Spain and  San Antonio. Photo by Lea Thompson.

Rosa Huriega in Spain and San Antonio. Photo by Lea Thompson.

I accepted a staff reporting position at La Prensa. My time at the paper provided a great education, but the overall story impact was limited by the traditional newspaper format and business model.

Technology has changed the way we consume and receive our news, but people are still hungry for great stories. In an age where everything and everyone is connected, the world has become a smaller place. The Rivard Report, to me, seemed to be the only publication in San Antonio that understood that. I decided to leave the newspaper and freelance full-time until I found a new city or publication that was dedicated to great stories.

Fortunately, I found my place at the Rivard Report as the new assistant editor in November. I am proud to work with such an incredible, talented team of individuals who push me to become a stronger journalist, photographer and person. I’m determined to find a balance between meaningful writing, quality photography and video in a fast-paced, deadline driven news environment. I look forward to contributing to community projects that inspire growth and real conversations. In the meantime, there are more stories waiting.


*Top Image: Visiting Park Güell in Barcelona, on a trip to retrace my family’s roots, 2014.

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Jaime Solis: From Rockport to the Rivard Report

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