By Rachel Gobep
From investigative reporting to stories on education and local government, two Youngstown State University graduates told Youngstown’s narrative while working as news reporters at The Vindicator.
Samantha Phillips and Graig Graziosi were trained as journalists at YSU’s student-run newspaper, The Jambar.
They remained at The Vindicator until its final hours.
Graig Graziosi was teaching English overseas when he realized he needed to finish the journalism degree he started 10 years prior.
Graziosi got caught in the Arab Spring riot in the Maldives — he was coincidentally one of the first Western journalists on the ground.
He reported on his experience during the anti-government protest and interviewed government administrators.
“While I was there, I was in the crowd and I was videotaping stuff and getting notes. One of the Maldivians asked me, ‘Woah, are you a journalist from America?’ And, I technically was. I wasn’t there for that purpose, but I was a journalist. I was from America,” he said.
This meant the story was going to be told on a broader stage than the local news in the Maldives.
When Graziosi got back from the Maldives, he went to San Diego for a short time before moving back to Ohio. He resumed classes at YSU.
Graziosi attended the university to obtain a journalism degree in 2005 but wasn’t satisfied with his experience in the program. He thought he would be able to pursue creative writing, which is something journalists need to work toward.
“I was very young, I was 17 at the time … So, I didn’t really have an understanding of the industry,” he said.
Graziosi also had an odd experience with The Jambar during his first stint as a journalism student.
“I worked for two issues. The first issue, they ran my story without my byline, and the second issue, they ran my byline, but no story … So, at that point, I was like, ‘You know what? I think I’m done.’”
He started writing for The Jambar when he came back to YSU — where he reported on breaking news, in-depth investigative stories, union negotiations and even a story about a man who dresses like a cat.
He felt a need to come back and tell the stories of Youngstown because he grew up in and around the city.
Graziosi’s first job at 13 years old was as a paperboy for The Vindicator, and he wanted his first three years as a journalist with a degree to be spent at the newspaper.
“I thought it was gonna be on my time frame and not the paper shutting down, but it did. I was here for three years, and now I’m looking to move and go to a larger market, but I mean, that was ultimately what kinda kept me here … I wanted to work for Youngstown,” he said
Graziosi said he enjoys writing long-form narratives and storytelling, and his favorite story was written at the end of his time at The Vindicator.
It was about a Jamacian immigrant, William Johnson, who lives on the South Side.
“[I wrote about] his story of getting here and using his skills and his tenacity and his drive to take an otherwise forgotten section of the South Side that has been basically abandoned by anybody except for the residents there and trying to start a community for himself there,” he said.
Johnson has renovated houses, brought other Jamacians into the community, helped his neighbors and built an aquaponic center on his own property.
“Working with Johnson was kind of just a modern story of that force that really made Youngstown great in its hayday, and he’s still doing it today,” Graziosi said.
He said he believes his most important stories were reporting on Lordstown General Motors and land contracts, which is something real estate companies use to prey on poverty-stricken people.
On Samantha Phillips’ fourth day at The Vindicator, she reported on the death of Justin Leo, a Girard police officer.
Leo was shot and killed in 2017 while responding to a domestic disturbance.
“He was shot Saturday night and died Sunday morning,” Phillips said. “So, I came to work that Monday, [and] I spent the entire day trying to gather information to find out what happened and what was gonna happen next.
At the end of the day, her editor told her she needed to talk to Leo’s parents.
“That is a terrifying request for not just a young journalist who’s just starting out but for anybody because these poor people had just lost their son, and he was young. So, I sucked it up and I knocked on the door and talked to them, and we had this nice interview about their son and we kind of cried together. They really opened their heart to me.”
She described this experience as a “crash course in journalism.”
Phillips later wrote several stories about fundraisers to create scholarships in Leo’s memory and the community response.
“I still think that initial story is kind of what got me fired up to be a journalist,” she said.
Phillips said her coworker said, “That’s when I knew you had ink in your blood.”
She studied communication at YSU, and she always knew that she wanted to be a writer in some way.
“That was always really important to me, but I wasn’t sure exactly what kind of outlet I was going to be writing for or in what capacity I was gonna be writing, but I figured that because I always loved reading newspapers, that might be an avenue to take,” she said.
Phillips then began working at The Jambar.
“I wasn’t necessarily trying to get into journalism. I just thought it would be a good way to start writing regularly … Very quickly I kind of got bit by the journalism bug. I kind of fell in love with the aspect of being able to tell stories,” she said.
Phillips reported on crime, local government, education, breaking news and investigative pieces at The Vindicator. Although she began her journalism career in Youngstown, she always knew she was going to leave the city.
“I’m definitely not one of those people that feel committed to Youngstown, but I wanted to start my career off locally, and it was mostly because a lot of my Jambar friends actually worked for The Vindicator, so it felt like a natural transition,” she said.
Phillips moved to Washington, D.C., on Wednesday morning. She will be working as a senior communications coordinator at the Edison Electric Institute.
“It’s scary because I’ve done journalism for the past two years at The Vindicator. I did it for two years at The Jambar, but I think that it’s a good fit for me, and I think that with the skills I have gained as a journalist, I’m going to be just fine.”
She said she wouldn’t discourage people from going into journalism, but would discourage people from going into print journalism at this time.