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From Columbia College Chicago to the Chicago Tribune: Zareen Syed reflects on her career

Zareen Syed’s love of storytelling was evident since childhood, as she began to write her first stories in third grade. Since then, Syed, 30, from Glendale Heights, Illinois, has followed her passion of writing to her current position at the Chicago Tribune.  

After a journey filled with twists and turns, Syed is now the regional education reporter at the Chicago Tribune. Having started this position in December, Syed has worked her way from being a student with a passion to a reporter who has continued to chase her dreams, even carving out her own path at times, she said. 

Back in 2013, Syed entered Columbia College Chicago as a transfer student from the College of DuPage. She had dreams of becoming a magazine feature writer. “In journalism with features, you can use your creative writing skills to tell a story and also make it newsworthy,” Syed said.  

After graduating in 2016, it took Syed about six months to find a job as a production assistant at WGN. During this time, Syed questioned her line of work as she wanted to write stories and not call out camera shots, she said. However, after getting married in 2018, she moved to the small town of Methuen, Massachusetts. For five months, Syed worked at Loop Weekly, a small local newspaper.  

She quickly landed a part-time position at a Fox News affiliate, Boston 25 News in April of 2018. From police car chases to missing person reports, Syed wrote the articles that pop up on phone screens as constant notifications from news websites, she said. Ironically enough, Syed did not get hired when she first applied for the position. Her follow-up emails showing interest in future opportunities helped. “The guy ended up hiring the past intern, but I was just so adamant,” Syed said. “And I was pretty big about advocating for myself.” 

In 2019, Syed finally returned to Chicago and with the help of her former advisor Jennifer Halperin, she began to write listicles and lifestyle stories for the Chicago Tribune content agency. Although it was not ideal, Syed knew it was a foot in the door.  

In 2020, Syed applied for a full-time reporter position in Hinsdale with the Tribune. Her work during this time would prove to be crucial, as her writing of the education issues in Hinsdale would propel her into her current position. “I kind of carved out this own little niche for myself on the suburban beat where I started writing a lot of education stories,” Syed said. She followed her instinct and believed the issues in Hinsdale represented the larger state of America.  

Now as regional education reporter, she covers hundreds of schools and focuses on “identifying big issues in certain school districts.” Her typical workday consists of daily story deadlines but also enterprise stories, which take up to weeks to write. “Every day is different,” Syed said.  

When she reflects on her path, Syed finds it funny how she never thought she would cover education in journalism. Even though she had a plan to become a magazine writer, she understands the value of writing about education issues that affect everyone from parents to teachers. Based on her years of experience, Syed advises young journalists to remain flexible and to accept even the unexpected opportunities. “You’ll end up where you are meant to be,” she said. 

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