Introducing Active Voice Fellow Melissa Gomez

Melissa Gomez is here to tell you that you can’t fake it until you make it. A rising senior at the University of Florida, she’s taking this school year off to report full time for the Tampa Bay Times — and she attributes so much of her success to having been honest.

“What if you’re faking [what you know] and you screw up royally?” she said.

Gomez has held posts at the Naples Daily News, the Las Vegas Review Journal, and the Independent Florida Alligator at UF. At the Alligator, she started as a contributing writer and quickly worked her way up to managing print editor. She says she’s learned most about journalism by admitting gaps in her knowledge and asking directly for help.

She wants to relay that confidence to younger girls this year as part of her Active Voice fellowship. Gomez believes that too often, girls are told to be like the guys or face more pressure to hide their weaknesses. But that compels them to be inauthentic and stunts their confidence.

A two-time recipient of a New York Times scholarship and fluent in Spanish, Gomez hopes to pursue reporting and focus on court trials. But she anticipates that her future in journalism won’t always be easy or fair. During college, she’s encountered sexism working as a female editor on more “masculine” topics and stories. A male writer didn’t trust her with his piece on a baseball game because he assumed she wouldn’t know the first thing about sports. Recounting that experience, she also took pride in how she defended herself and proved her expertise by marking up the story anyway.

“The only reason I was confident enough to tell them to back off was because at the time I had done two previous internships and I had enough confidence to back up that I was going to edit this piece just like I would any other,” she said.

After being told what they can and can’t do and conditioned to listen to restraining rules of conduct, girls need to see other women breaking barriers and speaking up, Gomez said. At least, that’s what she thinks would have helped her in high school.

“I would have benefited from knowing that there were influential and up-and-coming female journalists,” she said. “I didn’t realize it was a lot harder for women to break into journalism until I got into a professional newsroom and realized just how small of percentage they make up sometimes.”

Not only does she want to serve as a role model for girls to speak up, but she wants to make it possible for all students in Florida to do so freely. Currently, press freedom laws in the state leave students vulnerable to being censored by their schools. The Student Press Law Center has been heading a campaign, called New Voices, to pass legislation that would protect the free press rights of students. Gomez will be joining the campaign this year.