OC Watchdog Teri Sforza’s Journey to Success

Growing up, Orange County Register’s Teri Sforza always knew that she would one day pursue a career in writing. Fast forward over 30 years later and Sforza is now a well respected senior reporter of the OC Register and the creator of the OC Watchdog column, where she keeps a close watch on governments and nonprofit organizations.

1135_4939Sforza’s career began at the early age of 22 years old when she landed her first job at a small newspaper in Hammond, Louisiana at The Daily Star.

“It was extraordinary. There is no place like it. I tell every young reporter I meet not to lust after those jobs at the major metros, but to really slide into a place like Hammond and the Daily Star and get to know what real, small-town journalism is all about,” said Sforza in a 50 year celebration of The Daily Star interview.

In a personal interview with Sforza, she reminisced about her time spent at The Daily Star and continued to express her admiration for small town journalism. She especially enjoyed the personal firsthand encounters she got to have with her readers and the “immediate and real feedback”, something missing from the digital world today where anonymous readers share their feedback via the Internet.

Screen Shot 2016-02-03 at 3.43.10 AM“The experience of working in a small town, where people yell at you about your stories in the supermarket, was exquisite,” shared Sforza.

Following her time at The Daily Star, Sforza left Louisiana, went to Santa Barbara, then to San Diego, then took a year off to travel the world,. Finally, she ended up in Orange County where she accepted a job at the Register with the intentions of only spending a couple years before going back to school.

Sforza’s plans to spend a couple years resulted in her staying with the company for over 20 years. Although, she did return back to school at UCLA where she received her M.F.A. from UCLA’s School of Theater, Film, and Television.

Since then, she has worked on a few documentaries and still enjoys filmmaking as a hobby. In the meantime, however, she continues her career as an investigative reporter, something she feels she was called to do.

“You have to have an appetite for telling other people what to do. You’re a bit of a busy body and wanting to poke. I think that people are not comfortable with poking, and I am more comfortable with that,” said Sforza, “You grow into that because it is not necessarily a natural state of being. I wanted things to be better so I started poking a little bit and it sort of worked.”

According to her reporter profile, during her time at the Register she has covered “the largest municipal bankruptcy in America‘s history”, contributed to a Pulitzer Prize-winning investigation of fertility fraud at UC Irvine, wrote a book titled “The Strangest Song” and is in the process of writing another book.

It has not always been an easy job as Sforza often has to communicate with people who do not necessarily wish to talk to her, due to the nature of the job.

“You’re in a constant state of confrontation. You are generally not ever talking to somebody who wants to talk to you. It’s just kind of adversarial, set up from the get go although that just takes a little bit of getting use to,” stated Sforza.

Today, she is respected amongst her peers, past and present co-workers, and the public.

“Nobody does a faster better job at analyzing lots of data than her. She has been doing 3-4 stories a week, and they are just fabulous,” shared Dennis Foley, a Chapman University professor who has known Sforza since the early 1980’s.

Sforza has gained admiration due to her outgoing and friendly personality, her willingness to help others in and out of the workplace, and her professional journalistic skills.

“When I have an idea for a project, she’s always up to assist in any way: dig up records, talk to sources, locate data, etc. She is incredibly generous with her institutional knowledge and source-sharing. I’ve learned a ton from her and often ask her for advice on how to approach a story, a source or public-records request,” stated Lily Leung, a fellow OC Register investigative reporter.

At the end of the day, Sforza continues to act as a public service to others, by providing them with information they may not have uncovered without her.

In the end, she is motivated by her desires to leave the world a better place than she found it.

“I want to get things done, I want to make things better and [investigative reporting] just seemed like a way to help do that.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

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