Hannah Ortega’s journey to write an original children’s story at The Drag

Hannah Ortega always had her sights set on becoming a writer, even before she knew what opportunities awaited her with journalism.

The two of us bonded over both dressing up as writers at our respective career days in grade school. The costumes were clear-cut for kids who aspired to become professional athletes, doctors, or astronauts. But what does a writer look like? Unsure of the answer, Ortega opted for a briefcase and cherry-red glasses on the tip of her nose.

She was introduced to journalism in middle school, but she said it was simply an outlet for practicing her writing skills back then.

“In high school, I realized more of what journalism was really about, and that I could tell important stories and talk to people that I never would have talked to otherwise,” Ortega said.

And the rest is history. Ortega had no doubt that she wanted to major in journalism at the University of Texas at Austin.

Despite her proclivity for print journalism, Ortega loves podcasts and the audio side of things.

At the time we spoke, her favorite podcast was “Monster: The Zodiac Killer,” and we joked that our initial knowledge about the serial killer was limited to the internet meme comparing him to Texas Sen. Ted Cruz.

Ortega’s first foray into audio was during her freshman year in journalism professor Robert Quigley’s digital storytelling course, where one of the assignments was producing a short audio story. It was in this class that she first heard about The Drag, founded by Quigley himself.

“I’ve never done audio stuff before then,” Ortega said. “When I thought of journalism, I strictly thought print writing. It was kind of a trial by fire, and I was like, ‘What is Adobe Audition?’ But I feel like I caught on to it pretty quickly and enjoyed it a lot.”

In fact, she liked the experience so much that she decided to take Quigley’s audio storytelling class, where she gained the skills and confidence that she said prepared her for eventually applying and getting accepted to The Drag’s internship this summer.

Ortega recalls the first virtual staff meeting she attended as an intern at The Drag, and she raved about how positive, welcoming, and enthusiastic everyone was.

“That’s the first Zoom meeting I’ve had that I actually enjoyed,” Ortega said. “The Drag has shown me the kind of environment that I want to work in when I graduate. I loved meeting all the wonderful people here because everyone is very talented and doing cool things that inspire me to do cool things.”

Little did Ortega know as a freshman that three years later, she’d be writing, recording, and editing her own original children’s story for an episode of The Drag’s podcast, “Story Submarine.”

Her six-minute-long episode “Into the Blue” is the culmination of many weeks of refining her script, recording her own narration, and editing in sound effects until all the elements seamlessly came together.

Ortega said the story was directly inspired by her firsthand experience scuba diving in Hawaii, when she nearly had a panic attack.

“I wanted it to be about conquering fear, but I didn’t want it to be too scary or panicky for kids,” Ortega said.  

Writing for a younger audience was a small learning curve for Ortega, since deviating from her usual style and telling a story using colorful yet uncomplicated language were unique challenges.

But with a creative writing certificate up her sleeve and helpful feedback from mentors at The Drag, Ortega mastered the art of writing for children in no time. (One tip she learned: Sprinkle in some exclamation marks when needed)

“I just had to remind myself, ‘Simple is not bad writing,’” Ortega said. “It was fun to write something more carefree and whimsical.”

Now, as a rising senior with experience from The Drag under her belt—and the professional world on the horizon—Ortega is optimistic about telling impactful stories through podcasts in the future.

“I’d really love to keep doing podcasts, especially because it’s an expanding medium,” Ortega said. “More and more people are listening, and there are so many stories out there that would be well told through audio. It’s definitely something I’d like to do professionally.”