How a photo inspired Maddie Pukite’s story on cutbacks affecting student parents

Maddie Pukite headshot with Behind The Story logo to the right.

Interview by Rei Wolfsohn, Storytelling Intern at the Student Press Law Center. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Student journalists are instrumental in telling important — and often untold — stories for their communities. Each week SPLC highlights examples of bold journalism done by high school and collegiate student journalists for our series Behind the Story.

Headshot of Madeline Pukite

This week, SPLC spoke with Maddie Pukite, a junior from the University of New Mexico. Pukite, who works as the managing editor and senior reporter for the Daily Lobo, spoke with us about their story, “University lacks support for student parents” about the university’s decision to sell its Student Family Housing apartment complex and the effect that decision had on student parents. 

Check out past Q&As here.

How does it feel to be on the other side of the interview right now?

Definitely a little weird. It’s exciting to get a chance to talk about some reporting that I’ve done!

RW: How did you first get this story idea?

MP: The housing complex had been sold in September 2021. So that had happened a little bit prior to when I wrote the story. Somebody sent me a picture of the student housing complex now being destroyed. That picture and the ruins of it is what sparked the story. So I asked, “What other resources that student parents need are there that just don’t exist at the university?”

RW: How did you approach interviews for this story? 

MP: I really try to let the interview take a natural flow and let the person that I’m talking to tell the story that they want to share with me. I want to make sure that the other person feels comfortable in the situation, giving them the power. For this story I had information from the policy analyst when I went into the other interviews. It’s a combination of going in with prior information so I know what I want to hit on, and letting them take the lead in some fashion. 

RW: Was it difficult getting your sources to talk to you?

MP: I did do all the interviews virtually for the story. I didn’t really have any difficulty finding people to talk to for this story. I’ve covered the Graduate Workers Union in the past a lot, so that was a part of the student body — I knew that it would be a good way to find people to talk to. I have also talked to the people from New Mexico Voices for Children before so I have a relationship with some sources there. They just happened to have a policy analyst that works with this story. Everything fell into place pretty well.

RW: Did your editors have any concerns about how the school would react to the story?

MP: The final discretion of what gets published is up to our editor in chief and he didn’t have any concerns. We all felt comfortable publishing the story. I did reach out to the university for comment. We all felt confident in the reporting when it got published.

RW: Do you have any advice for other student journalists?

MP: When I got started [in student journalism], I took on any story I could so later I could have a good sense of what I was getting into no matter what I was picking up. Forming relationships with sources is also important. Work to build up a good repertoire of people you’ve talked to before. [But] constantly seek out new and different people to talk to, don’t get into a pattern of only talking to some. 

RW: Is there anything else you want to say about your story?

MP: I think it’s important that all parts of the student body are being covered. As a paper, our focus should be on the student body and what’s affecting them. We have a chance to cover a part of the city that other papers don’t. We’re talking to all groups. Student parents are a part of the student body that people don’t always think about.

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