This week we talked with Veronica Garabelli, special projects editor at Virginia Business Magazine. She talks about her path to U.S. citizenship, what’s next for Virginia’s economy, keeping long-form reporting alive and more.
To start can you please introduce yourself and tell us a little about where you’re form, what you do, where you do it and how long you’ve been doing it?
I’m the special projects editor at Virginia Business, the commonwealth’s only statewide business magazine. My title involves many different roles—writing and editing monthly for the magazine and VirginiaBusiness.com; heading our digital and social media strategy; producing videos and of course, leading our supplemental publications, such as the upcoming Hampton Roads Business, an annual guide to doing business in Eastern Virginia.
I’ve worked here for six years, starting out as special projects assistant editor in 2012. Prior to that I was a video editor at Lockwood Broadcast Group and freelance writer for Richmond.com and Chesterfield Observer.
I’m a proud alumna of Virginia Commonwealth University, where I earned a bachelor’s in print journalism in 2010 and a master’s in multimedia journalism in 2011. Richmond has been my home for almost 12 years, but I’m originally from Montevideo, Uruguay. I moved from Uruguay to Northern Virginia when I was eight years old and have been in Virginia ever since. I became a U.S. citizen last year, which was one of the greatest moments of my life. I love being part of a country that’s so eclectic and cherishes freedom of speech and freedom of the press.
Wow. If you don’t mind me asking, what was the process like to become a citizen? Was something you had wanted to do for a while?
The process to become a citizen is a long one! You have to have a visa for a few years before you can become a permanent resident (aka. green card holder). After being a permanent resident for five to seven years you’re eligible to apply for citizenship. Once I applied for citizenship, the process took about a year, including passing the naturalization test, where you’re tested on everything from the number of U.S. Representatives to the number of justices on the Supreme Court. It took a lot of back-and-forth trips from Richmond to Norfolk, where the closest U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services office is located. I wanted to apply for citizenship for a long time but didn’t have the cash on hand to do it right away ($600-$700 is a lot when you’ve just graduated college). I was happy to do it when I did, though!
Do you think because you were born in Uruguay that you have a different view of the U.S. media than someone that was born in the U.S.?
Not really. Freedom of the press and speech is alive and well in Uruguay and the U.S., so I expect a certain standard due to growing up in both cultures. Uruguay did go through a military dictatorship from 1973 to 1985 when there was heavy media censorship. The dictatorship ended two years before I was born but from conversations with my parents and grandparents it reminds me of how quickly our freedom can be taken away from us, and how important it is to protect a democracy. I’m proud to be in a profession that keeps the government and other entities accountable.
As the state’s only business magazine, how do you think the publication is unique to others in the state? Do you balance between a built-in readership of business-oriented people and the general public, or do you write for both?
We are a business-to-business publication so that sets us apart from news outlets in the state that are writing to consumers. We cover topics ranging from commercial real estate to workforce development and human resources. The magazine’s target audience are executives and small business owners, but our stories appeal to the general public as well. We provide in-depth analysis on topics that will impact or are impacting business owners. We’re proud to still be doing long form journalism in a media environment where resources are becoming more scarce.
Do you consider yourself lucky to still be able to write long-form pieces in 2018?
Absolutely! I love digging deep into topics, ranging from the growth of the distillery industry to cutting-edge research at Virginia’s universities. I also really enjoy finding the hook in stories that some may find dry and drawing readers in. I never imagined I’d be doing business journalism in college but it has taken me to some high places! (Literally, like riding a small aircraft to document aerial research by commercial real estate firm CoStar Group. I shot a video for an online piece but barely held it together due to motion sickness. I made it out OK, though!)
What has been one of the more memorable stories you’ve done for Va. Business?
I thoroughly enjoyed covering the growth of Virginia’s distillery industry and the challenges faced by craft distillers. The industry has grown tremendously in a short period. We had almost 60 distilleries last year, up from a dozen in 2012. It’s been interesting hearing about the issues they face being in a controlled state and the similarities and differences encountered by the local wine and beer industries. I’m getting ready to delve into the evolution of the commonwealth’s craft beer industry for an upcoming article. I have a feeling I’ll enjoy working on that story just as much as this one!
“I love digging deep into topics, ranging from the growth of the distillery industry to cutting-edge research at Virginia’s universities. I also really enjoy finding the hook in stories that some may find dry and drawing readers in. I never imagined I’d be doing business journalism in college but it has taken me to some high places!”
So your job at Va. Business kind of allows you to—broadly speaking—understand the economy of Virginia and all its ebbs and flows? Have you kind of, by accident or intentionally, became an expert on the Commonwealth’s business economy thanks to your job?
Exactly. It has taught me about what makes the economy tick in Virginia and the United States. It’s also fascinating to see how local economies vary depending on the part of the state. The knowledge I’ve gained through this job hasn’t been an accident. I made a conscious decision to go in to business journalism six years ago, and I wasn’t sure what to expect. Thankfully, I’ve enjoyed it because it allows me to report on different topics and meet some of the most influential leaders in the state. I also love this beat because people pour so much of their lives into their jobs and businesses. It’s an honor to tell those stories!
Outside of reporting and being a de-facto expert on Virginia’s business economy, what are some of your hobbies?
I take joy from the simple things in life. I love hanging out with my family, which is mostly in town, and my partner, Clay. I’m frequently found enjoying Richmond’s food and beverage scene (Stella’s greek cuisine in the Near West End or the breweries in Scott’s Addition). Another one of my favorite hangouts is the dog park where I take my two dogs: Ruby, a 14-year-old hound mix, and Rusty, a spunky chug (Chihuahua/Pug). I also recently started running and completed a half marathon in November.
Have you found any parallels between your running and your writing/reporting? The verdict seems to be out on whether the two are intertwined.
I have met a lot of other journalists that run, including my colleague Jessica Sabbath. She has been an amazing buddy and motivator during training! It’s a fantastic way to clear your mind, especially in the middle of writing. I also think that running and going through the editing process can sometimes feel like pulling teeth, but I’m always proud when it’s done!
Looking forward, where do you see Virginia’s business economy heading? What do you think the next “big story” is?
The unemployment rate is low so that’s good news for the economy and business. However, I think many companies will continue to struggle with the skills gap and workforce development. We constantly hear about businesses not finding workers with the appropriate skills, and this will continue to be a big story topic. Tech talent, for example, will be key in Amazon’s decision of where to locate its second headquarters, which Northern Virginia is in the running for.
Favorite writers (anyone from current journalists to playwrights): I love Frank McCourt, author of “Angela’s Ashes.” I also adore the poetry of Uruguayan poet Juana de Ibarbourou, which my mother used to read to me when I was little.
Favorite book(s): “Angela’s Ashes” by Frank McCourt and “The Book Thief,” by Markus Zusak are two that immediately come to mind.
One piece of writing advice, or mantra, you actively practice: After I come back from an interview my coworker Paula Squires always asks, “What’s the biggest takeaway?” What I end up telling her is usually what ends up in the story. It helps cut through the clutter and makes you go with your instinct.
Favorite spot to run in Richmond: Potterfield Memorial Bridge over the James River.