From the Classroom to the Workroom: Alumna Alisha Ebrahimji

Sriya Reddy and Leo Rocha

In 2007, a young girl works diligently at the back of a brightly lit classroom, surrounded by bulky computers and students bustling around. Yearbook teacher Deanna Martin leads them all, searching for headshots, pages and quotes. The young girl, Alisha Ebrahimji, a senior at the time, had found herself in the room as a result of a scheduling mishap. Little did she know that this small incident would impact her for the rest of her life.

“Alisha needed an elective in order to graduate so I took a chance by putting her on the yearbook staff,” Martin said. “She was a good staff member who did a great job on her pages. She was focused and did her work not only in class but also during lunch and after school.”

Nine years later, the room has not changed much. The computers are newer, the faces are different, but Martin still remains. The young girl, however, has moved on from Plano West and graduated from Texas State University. Ebrahimji now works as a Digital Multi-Skilled Journalist (MSJ) for WFAA, otherwise known as American Broadcasting Company (ABC) Channel 8.

“My typical day at WFAA starts like this: I walk in and get coffee before anyone speaks to me,” Ebrahimji said. “I then go to the morning meeting and do an activity called ‘Pulse.’”

The rules of Pulse are simple. It begins with everyone in the meeting coming up with ideas for stories based off of what they have seen on social media feeds such as Facebook or Twitter. Everything is fair game.

“We discuss different angles and try to figure out how we can approach the story,” Ebrahimji said. “Then we assign the reporters. If a reporter doesn’t get a certain story, then I know I can write it and put it online.”

Part of Ebrahimji’s job description includes being familiar with the latest trends using resources such as Techcrunch and Mashable as well as staying ahead of the curve. Due to the constant exposure to technology, online presence is important to media outlets.

Along with appealing to the masses online, Ebrahimji also finds stories and interviewees the traditional way.

“I love going out to do man-on-the-street interviews, sort of like what Jimmy Kimmel does,” Ebrahimji said. “You meet so many people and make personal connections. It’s so easy for me to make a poll on Twitter and get one side of people’s opinions but when you go out on the street you get something completely different.”

Utilizing new and unique technological innovations, Ebrahimji often uses the changing platforms of journalism and social media to continually spread her stories.

“I have tripods, boom mics, GoPros and my phone,” Ebrahimji said. “I try to tell a story using minimal tools, which is the same thing the TV reporters do. The only difference is that I do it solely for the digital platform.”

Ebrahimji has been working at WFAA since the end of the summer and thoroughly enjoys her job at the station. Being the only Digital MSJ in the company, she is grateful for the opportunity to forge new advances in online journalism.

“I’ve been at WFAA for three months now, but it feels like three years,” Ebrahimji said. “I say that because everyone here is so nice and it feels like home. People like John McCaa and Cynthia Izaguirre make you feel so welcome.”

One of the most important things coming with her job at WFAA is its proximity to her home. Growing up in a single parent home, Ebrahimji was prone to numerous disadvantages. Due to the death of a family member, Ebrahimji was in England, missing her finals and the chance to pick out classes for her senior year. She needed an elective in order to graduate.

“Yearbook was the only class open, and it completely changed my outlook on what I wanted to do with my life,” Ebrahimji said. “I talked to Mrs. Martin and she took a chance on me, which I’m forever grateful for, and the rest is history.”

Previously, Ebrahimji was on the path to law. However, after making the decision to take yearbook, her course of life changed. With the influence of Martin and the unique opportunities associated with yearbook, Ebrahimji realized her passion for journalism.

“It makes a teacher feel really good to know that they’ve made a difference in a student’s life,” Martin said. “That’s why we’re here. We’re trying to build up young adults to go out in the community and make their mark. What’s funny is that I’ve always watched WFAA–it’s the channel I always go to. It’s wonderful that now I can see Alisha actually on TV.”

As a part of the Plano West alumni, Ebrahimji accredits much of her success to her high school.

“Yearbook and West as a whole definitely prepared me for my future,” Ebrahimji said. “The culture and different types of people that you are exposed to at West really gives you thicker skin and prepares you for the real world. I’m proud of coming from Plano West.”

On Oct. 17, Ebrahimji returned to her school to inspire other students pursuing journalism. She visited the newspaper class and later on continued to talk to the journalism classes as well. She talked about the influence of yearbook and her current WFAA occupation.

“Alisha was super friendly and sweet,” junior Sofia Canola said. “The minute she came in she was smiling at everyone. I really enjoyed listening to her. I thought that it was really cool watching a person who was a student before, who sat at the same desks as I do, become a big person as an adult.”

To Ebrahimji, journalism is like professional gossip, with the exception that you always get straight to the facts. She considers herself to possess the platform to tell people’s stories and help them along the way.

“You meet a ton of great people,” Ebrahimji said. “We’re here because we really love putting together stories and talking to people and bringing these awesome web articles.”

Ebrahimji believes that although the journey may come with seemingly impossible obstacles to overcome, the end result is overpowering.

“Work really hard,” Ebrahimji said. “Don’t stop working hard, and don’t take no for an answer. Inspire yourself, because in journalism no one else is going to do it for you. Put your hands on everything and don’t give up.”