A conversation with L.A. Times reporter Jasmine Elist

Jasmine Elist has been an entertainment reporter at  The Los Angeles Times for more than four years. However, before Elist figured out how to pursue her love for writing into a career in the “real world,” she, like many others, started out as a student at the University of Southern California in 2005. Elist paved the way to her career through her experience as an editorial intern for HarperCollins Publishers as well as editorial assistant at Los Angeles Confidential Magazine—eventually landing her a job as an on-camera reporter and entertainment writer for the L.A. Times.

Beginning as an editorial assistant working out of the mail room, Elist began pitching sto-ries to editors so she could do what she really wanted to do: write. “There would be weekends when I would go to award shows like the Oscars and my story would be on the front page of the newspaper. Then I would go to work on Monday and be back in the basement in the mail room. So I was definitely juggling a few hats,” Elist said.

The various roles Elist filled finally landed her as a reporter, and she began receiving pitches. Elist sees a “good story” as something that has an impact or affects change. Elist’s fa-vorite story she covered was brought to her by her friend—an actress—who attended a casting that ended up being a fake casting and a prank. This gave Elist the opportunity to draw aware-ness to actors and actresses that are often taken advantage of within the entertainment industry. Elist reached out to casting agencies in Los Angeles in an effort to spread awareness and limit it from happening again in the future. “It was the first time I felt like as a reporter or journalist, we can take a story and put it out there and do something about it,” said Elist.

Working with celebrities and covering the glamour of award shows were Elist’s favorite parts of being an entertainment reporter, as well as the biggest challenges. While covering a Van-ity Fair party, Elist danced with Bill Murray—one of her favorite actors. “You’re in a room with all these incredible people and you have the chance to have fun with it,” Elist said. However, covering red-carpet shows was “cutthroat” according to Elist.

“I always had a glamorized idea of red-carpet coverage. But in reality you are on your feet for eight hours waiting for celebrities to come through while reporters wait elbow-to-elbow for interviews.”
Elist’s most recent coverage was for Showtime’s Emmy Eve Party. After receiving an email from a publicist regarding media that is expected to be at the event, Elist brushed up on her Showtime knowledge by familiarizing herself with the actors, actresses, and shows. Because the media is not allowed to have formal interviews with guests, reporters look for “color quotes”—conversations they overhear amongst the famous attendees.

“Once I get there, I get a feel for the party and take note of it—what’s being served, who’s performing, what’s the vibe. Then when celebrities start coming in, I’ll make a note of who’s there,” said Elist. Following the red carpet, reporters “become a little bit of a creep” according to Elist, who positioned herself in places throughout the party so she could catch something attendees have said in conversation. That same night, Elist went home to write the story that will be published in the next day’s print head-lined: “Liev Schreiber, Claire Danes, kick back at Showtime Emmy Eve Party.”

While Elist appreciates being able to cover major red carpet events like the Oscars, she also really enjoys reporting on behind-the-scenes subjects. “I wrote about a guy that provides all the eyeglasses for most Hollywood movies—he even created the Harry Potter glasses. The story ended up on the front page of the Business section,” Elist said, drawing attention to the crucial behind-the-scenes part of the entertainment industry.

In pursuit of a future in comedy, Elist recently made the decision to begin freelancing for the L.A. Times. Elist’s focus shifted toward improv and comedy and slowly away from journal-ism. “Doing on camera stuff really made me realize that I want to be doing improv,” said Elist. Elist’s experience interviewing allowed her to appreciate improv: “the best conversations happen when I’m off script, so I try to be loose and free when I’m interviewing people.” Additionally, the L.A. Times weight on social media taught Elist how to utilize social media to benefit her as a a reporter and as a freelancer pursuing comedy.

Elist learned first hand how significant social media is for the L.A. Times when applying for a position within the newspaper.“They loved me and loved the stuff I was writing, but they told me they were hiring another girl because she has 3,000 Twitter followers.” Elist now utilizes social media to her advantage as she tweets and posts her published stories and tags those involved, in addition to being a platform for her to promote her comedic talent.

Today, Elist is focusing on her passion for comedy while continuing to fulfill her love for writing as a freelancer. “It’s great because I have this dichotomy of having the pleasure of being a reporter while also being able to pursue comedy.”

 

Shannon Toobi is an undergraduate student in COM, contributing her classwork to “Portfolio,” The COMmunicator’s exclusive space for student work. 

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