Out of all college programs in her native Philadelphia, Kiara Santos picked Drexel University to kick off her journalism career, as she prepares to achieve her goal to become a top editor in the news industry.
A communications student, she longed to become a leader at The Triangle, Drexel’s independent student newspaper and joined the team of reporters in the fall 2018 semester of her freshman year.
Months later, COVID-19 shut down activities on campus and impacted the lives of students like Santos working on the newspaper. The last weekly edition she worked on for the online paper published in the summer of 2020. The Triangle and its team then went silent.
After a nearly two-year hiatus, Santos and five students gathered in March to revive the paper.
With a leadership void after several students graduated and financial strains resulting from a 2018 bankruptcy that forced the print editions to cease, Santos and the other Triangle volunteers were off to a rough start.
Santos applied to be the new arts and entertainment editor. But, she received a different offer: The Triangle’s then editor-in-chief asked her to take over the publication. Today, the 22-year-old senior is the first Afro-Latina editor-in-chief for The Triangle. The staff just published an online edition, and is working to offer at least one print edition in the fall, depending upon finances.
Born and raised in Kensington, Santos attended Russell H. Conwell Middle Magnet School and the all-girls Little Flower Catholic High School. Of Black Caribbean roots, she was raised by her mother, a Dominican from Manhasset in Long Island, N.Y.
While at Drexel, Santos hasn’t had a summer break. She works part-time shifts in addition to her co-op program and role at The Triangle. In her pursuit to becoming a professional journalist, Santos is aware that she needs to work her way up to success, as she develops her leadership skills. Currently, she is a special project associate for Mighty Writers and a communications associate for The Lenfest Institute for Journalism.
Eight weeks into the role at The Triangle, Santos has her hands full: She’s been reconnecting with Drexel alumni who’ve held positions at the paper to seek their guidance. She’s recruiting a diverse group of reporters and editors to work on the four beats and business areas of the paper. She’s leading marketing efforts on campus about the return of The Triangle and coordinates content production. All of this while organizing the new office space, a large newsroom in the Creese Student Center’s basement that’s in need of repairs and cleaning.
Despite the challenges, a team of about 20 students work on their personal computers to revive The Triangle. The students volunteer their time and equipment to run the 96-year-old independent paper, which is neither funded or operated by Drexel. Most recently, the university organized an advisory board to support The Triangle, chaired by communications professor Ron Bishop. On June 10, the team published The Triangle’s first online issue since 2020.
The Inquirer spoke with Santos about her vision for the student newspaper, her goals, and what it means to be the first Black female editor-in-chief.
Congratulations! How do you feel about this accomplishment?
To be quite honest, it’s a crazy manifestation of my dreams. Even though I was sorta thrown into this position, I always wanted to lead a student newspaper. Not just for the resumé building, but because it’s something that I knew I would be good at.
I joined The Triangle, because I wanted to be a strong writer and to learn the ins and outs to running a student newspaper. I remember going out on my first assignment, a Me Too protest at Penn, with my audio recorder in hand. And I just fell in love with it all...but, at the time, I thought that there was no way I would be able to climb the ladder with all the white boys that were in power.
So, I told myself then: ‘By the time you are a senior, Kiara, you will be editor-in-chief.’ And look at me now! It just feels amazing. The Triangle is my home.
You’ve been at the job for eight weeks now. How has the experience been so far?
It’s been very tiring. Having to send out agendas, schedule meetings, reach out to old staff members, blast people on social media about the return of the paper, and recruit the new staff has been draining, especially since I started this role with zero transition and not knowing what I was doing. It was tough to bring people together to build this back. Some didn’t want to spend 3-4 hours of their week in a cold and dusty basement office, but we managed to overcome differences and difficulties. Now, we are a bunch of geeks, passionate about a newspaper, doing volunteer work while treating it as if we worked for the New York Times.
How do you feel about navigating this?
They say that a Drexel graduate always gets their dream job, but I know I have to walk a different path to see myself succeed, to win a Pulitzer. Because of these and other circumstances, I’ve had to learn how to hold a job, how to speak to a boss.
Days ago, I didn’t know how I was going to buy my groceries. Yet, this is about focusing on me and my skill set. The more integral my character, the better opportunities I have to reach those levels of success. In the end, when it comes to the good verses the great, it’s the passion and the care for the mission that make the difference.
What have you learned in this role so far?
That networking across is equally important as networking up. The strength of The Triangle’s alumni network is amazing and supportive. That leadership training needs to become widely available for all students. We are growing adults with a bunch of drama happening, after all. And that it’s really valuable to learn to take feedback. My college friends have been telling me how to do my job better and it’s all been for the best of me and the project, because it has helped me see and do things differently.
What goals would you like to accomplish during your tenure?
I definitely want to print again. We have funds left just to print one more issue. I don’t know yet what the framing would be, if a special edition or not. But, I look forward to producing it for September-October. I do want to build a legacy at The Triangle, by building back a structure for the paper, one that has all the resources it needs and makes it run smoothly.
I want it to have a strong newsroom, with a managing editor to help with the transitioning when students graduate or leave a role. I want to guarantee it has a strong DEI effort. … When I step down after graduation, I want it to be a diverse and financially strong student newspaper. One that is as good as other papers in the region, like the ones at Penn and Rutgers.