Alta’s Summer 2022 Intern Tells All

From the desk of our West Covina bureau chief.

former alta intern elisabeth casillas
Stanley Chow

I began my journalism career amid a pandemic, working entirely at home. One thing I’ve learned is that, in an office or at home, a person’s desk can tell you much about them. Atop my desk are three books that tell the story of my summer with, what I consider to be, one of the most unique and welcoming publications I have worked with, Alta Journal.

This essay was adapted from the Alta newsletter, delivered every Thursday.

Alta’s California Book Club’s June 2022 pick, Steph Cha’s Your House Will Pay, lies to the left of the desk with sticky notes on almost every page. I’d hit the ground running, reading and analyzing the book before my internship had even started.

I had applied to the American Society of Magazine Editors (a.k.a. ASME) my last year at college, and before graduation, I received the exciting and overwhelming news that I had been accepted and would be spending my summer interning with Alta. I was ecstatic about securing an internship right after graduation, especially in this cutthroat industry; simultaneously, I was concerned about making a good impression at my first job.

These worries were baseless.

At Alta, I was invited to every team meeting, regardless of how removed I was from the topic. Early in my internship, I attended a meeting where I laughed when everyone else laughed and nodded when everyone else nodded, and to this day, I would not be able to tell you what was decided. In this position, I was also encouraged to ask questions, pitch ideas, and get involved in any way I could.

Within that first month, I quickly formed connections with coworkers and sources, handled social media affairs, launched the California Book Club’s TikTok account—being the youngest person on the team, I put this responsibility on myself—successfully pitched stories, and created Alta’s first weekly California Bestsellers List.

Alta is a small publication, and that meant I was not only able to quickly get involved with everything, I was also able to meet everyone immediately—albeit in an unconventional manner.

Each week, I got to know my new colleagues through little squares on my computer screen, each revealing their own kitchens, bedrooms, basements, and coffee shops in various parts of California. Inside jokes and playful banter made these weekly meetings the equivalent of mingling across office cubicles or around a conference room table.

My own office space is a pink-and-white bedroom located in West Covina, California. I’ve found that there’s something refreshing about writing and reading California-centered pieces as someone who was born and raised in the Golden State. I’ve spent my life submerged in the culture and the community of the state, and seeing them come to life through writings has been incredible.

A quarterly publication moves at a more measured pace than daily news, allowing Alta to focus on deeper pieces. This was clear to me when I attended the Los Angeles Press Club Southern California Journalism Awards in June with one of the magazine’s editors. Alta won seven awards that night, a major highlight of the summer.

Dog-eared, highlighted, and written on, Always Running, by Luis J. Rodriguez, the book club’s July pick, lies near Cha’s book. This book reflects my second month with Alta, a time filled with memorable moments and a load of firsts: publishing articles, using our CMS, fact-checking, copyediting, visiting bookstores as an Alta staff member, and even helping choose cartoons.

I received assignments and tasks left and right, never saying no, not even if it meant that I would need to wake up early or stay up late. Of course, working with parents, East Coasters, night owls, and the occasional staff member located in England meant I never worked alone.

The last CBC summer title on my desk is The Wrong End of the Telescope, by Rabih Alameddine, the book club’s August read. Sitting atop all the notes and scraps of paper, the book is still pristine, only a few pages read so far. My career lies ahead in much the same way: undiscovered.

My internship ended on August 12, but the West Covina Alta office will still be running, manned by the West Covina bureau chief and only West Covina employee. No longer an editorial intern, I will be continuing as an editorial assistant.

I can’t imagine where my career will take me or where I will be in five years, but I know that the stepping stones Alta has laid out for me will take me far. As for this month, I look forward to continuing with my weekly bestsellers list, exploring new areas where I can help colleagues, and writing.•

Elizabeth Casillas is Alta Journal’s editorial assistant.
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