Journalism student tells stories with an entrepreneurial flair

This is the 13th in a series of articles about summer internships for students in the Donald P. Bellisario College of Communications.

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Four years ago, a University of Cambridge psychology professor was likely surprised to get an interview request from a high school student from Hershey, Pennsylvania.

That student, Katie DeFiore, was writing about the psychology of people’s musical tastes for the Hershey Broadcaster, her school’s newspaper. While other classmates may have asked their music teacher for a quote, DeFiore wanted to speak with the foremost expert. That person happened to be Cambridge’s David Greenberg.

“I wanted the most experienced source,” DeFiore said. “I tried hard on every article, which sometimes meant calling other countries and taking the extra step for the story.”

The story, after all, is the most important thing for the junior journalism major. DeFiore is a natural storyteller. During her time as a reporter and managing editor at the Broadcaster, she fell in love with the interview process. The people she talked to inspired her as she shared their stories with her peers.

This summer she is reporting from all around the Centre Region as an intern for WPSU-FM, the public radio station in State College. DeFiore has covered protests and art events, gathered public opinion, and contributed an essay about her interest in unearthing the stories that connect all people.

“That essay really shows Katie’s love for storytelling, particularly telling other people’s stories,” said Emily Reddy, WPSU news director. “She certainly has a talent for that.”

For a long time, DeFiore saw her future as a hard-hitting print journalist, but when her brother introduced her to the podcast “Serial,” things began to change. She gave the award-winning show, which thoroughly tells a single story over 12 episodes, a shot. The moods and sounds of audio began to lure her away. She was hooked.

“It blew my mind. It’s amazing what (host) Sarah Koenig can do with audio storytelling,” DeFiore said. She soon began listening to other shows like “This American Life,” “Planet Money” and “How I Built This.” Podcasts became a dream job that, at the time, didn’t seem practical.

She enrolled at Penn State. The resources at the Donald P. Bellisario College of Communications allowed her to explore both audio and print journalism. DeFiore began working for The Daily Collegian her freshman year and wrote stories for a number of beats, including the arts, crime/courts and student life. She also contributed bi-weekly columns for the campus newspaper this past semester.

But the prospect of podcasting continued to hang over her. During an interview for the Collegian, she connected with a graduate student who was working on producing affordable prosthetics. The student introduced DeFiore to the concept of entrepreneurship, including local organizations that support startups in the area.

She also discovered Co.Space, a residence of young, creative minds designed to promote the entrepreneurial spirit through collaboration. She was hooked again. She later moved into Co.Space. DeFiore loved the creativity and innovation her new housemates embraced. But now she had a decision to make — was she going to be an entrepreneur or a journalist?

“I am an entrepreneurial journalist,” DeFiore said. “Entrepreneurs do incredible things. They start companies. They do amazing research … and they all want to talk to someone about it. I want to tell the story that people will read or listen to and be inspired by.”

From then on, DeFiore had her podcast idea. Each episode would feature entrepreneurs and their ideas. She would interview them and find out what new innovations were around the corner. She would call it “An Entrepreneurial State of Mind.”

Ever the go-getter, DeFiore pitched the idea to the College of Agricultural Science’s Entrepreneurship & Innovation Program. Lisa Duchene, who coordinated the program at the time, got an email from DeFiore, and even though the program wasn’t looking for interns, the podcast idea was too good to pass up.

“The beginning of our relationship with Katie started when she said, ‘Hey, I made this podcast about entrepreneurs,’” said Duchene. “Right then, it was a done deal.”

Duchene said hiring DeFiore was a win-win. It positioned the Entrepreneurship Program in a new, popular medium and put the controls in the hands of a student who clearly knew what she was doing.

“Katie is fantastic,” Duchene said. “It was encouraging to have a student approach us with a concept and just go for it. Katie is going to do great things. She just gets it.”

The podcast was a big reason why DeFiore got hired at WPSU. Reddy said she was impressed with “An Entrepreneurial State of Mind” and thought DeFiore’s skills as a storyteller would translate well to radio.

“I think Katie’s consumption of podcasts helps her understand what they should be like,” Reddy said. “Also, entrepreneurship is an area people are interested in right now. I am hoping we’re giving her the tools to put it all together and create a high-quality product.”

Katie O’Toole, who teaches the course COMM 498 Podcasting, said DeFiore was a dream student who was “eager to participate and hungry to learn.”

“Katie was the youngest student in my podcasting class and had the least experience in broadcasting,” O’Toole added. “Yet, by the end of the semester, she was producing work that was so polished that she was hired to be a professional podcaster. I’m sure that everyone in our podcasting class learned something from Katie. I know I did.”

DeFiore said she would like to continue running “An Entrepreneurial State of Mind” after graduation. Her goals intersect at public radio. Many of her favorite podcasts air on NPR stations across the country. Her dream job is to create a show that NPR will broadcast on its stations. It may sound far off, but DeFiore is already well on her way.

“Katie has a knack for pulling together people’s dreams,” said Mark Gagnon, Harbaugh entrepreneurship scholar and entrepreneurship coordinator. “There are these people trying to change the world and push through challenges, and Katie has the ability to chase those stories down, make the stories real, and make the stories resonate.”

Last Updated August 14, 2017