Q&A: Brooks Visual Journalism Student Karen Castillo Farfán Discusses Her NPR Internship & More

February 21, 2013

Karen Castillo FarfánBrooks Institute Visual Journalism student Karen Castillo Farfán recently completed an internship with National Public Radio (NPR) in Washington D.C. We spoke with her about the highlights of her time there, how her passion for photojournalism evolved and how she stays on top of the latest developments in her field.

What made you decide to pursue an education in visual journalism?

I found my love for photojournalism while photographing weddings. They are both similar in that you only have one opportunity to take a pretty, storytelling image.  But with journalism, one tries to tell a story that could change the world, if not a life. 
How did you get the internship at NPR?

I applied for their fall program, went through their interview process and was offered an opportunity. If one wishes to apply, I recommend they pay attention to details on their resume, cover letter and website. Follow directions – I lost other opportunities for not doing so.  Also, just as important – what is your voice? Make sure it comes across in your work.
What were the biggest lessons you learned there?

Even though you are there as a student, they expect you to be as professional as colleagues who’ve worked there for 20+ years.  If you have to do a reshoot, it means you didn’t do your job well, and that makes you look unprofessional.
What was your favorite piece there?
I was hired as a photo intern but was given the opportunity to do so much more.  I produced a video story, I researched and wrote my own stories in addition to photographing them and helped the reporters do some research for their stories. But my favorite piece was the video I produced. It was a fun piece about the rhythm different bartenders make and how it affects the drinks they prepare.

The reporter and I wanted the readers not only to read about the science behind bartending but also to see it. So we pitched the video idea and got the go ahead. I was surprised to be given that much responsibility as an intern. I was responsible for everything from coming up with the idea of telling the reporter’s story to editing and directing it, all within a week’s time. The pressure was on, and I loved it!

What do you use to say current in your field?

I make sure to learn about the technological growth impacting visual journalism because it affects the way I tell stories. I use Lynda.com or Google for things I don’t know how to use.  While at NPR, I was asked to do things I didn’t know how to do.  Instead of saying I don’t know how to do it, I jumped into Google search to learn quickly.

I thought your short documentary, “Escaping Cycles,”€ was powerful and very well shot. Any thoughts on expanding it to feature length? 

Currently I am working on a longer piece with my Brookie colleague that addresses similar concerns on human trafficking for sex here in Ventura County. It is a film that not only shares awareness but offers tangible solutions to the problem. “€œEscaping Cycles” was made to help outreach programs connect with the kids they’re trying to help. It looks like it’s working; since its premiere I’ve been invited to speak to young people about gang affiliations and the dangerous role of women in them. [Read more about “Escaping Cycles,” which will be screened March 6 at Oxnard College, in this Feb. 18 article in the Ventura County Star.]

Karen Castillo Farfan Escaping Cycles

Karen Castillo Farfán’s honors include an honorable mention in the College Photographer of the Year Award of Excellence, feature category, 2012; Eddie Adams Workshop XXV recipient; Aurora Multimedia Workshop full scholarship recipient and being featured at the Santa Paula Art Museum three years in a row.

Career success will depend largely on the effort put into studies, job search efforts, experience and attitude.

Ian Forbes is a freelance writer from San Diego. He is the Founder/Senior Editor of the film review website www.soberingconclusion.com and Membership Chair of the San Diego Film Critics Society.