One day, more than a decade and a half ago, Jillian Melchior heard Elisha Maldonado and her family at a musical performance for Noah Webster Christian School. Afterward, Melchior went up to Maldonado and offered a compliment.
“She came up to tell me that she liked my hair,” Maldonado said. “I remember thinking ‘this is the weirdest person I’ve ever met.’ And she actually turned out to be the kindest, most inclusive person I ever met.”
To that point, Maldonado had been educated in private schools and homeschooled before deciding to attend Cheyenne Central High School for her junior year. When Melchior got wind of this, she immediately befriended Maldonado.
“She found out I was going to Central, and said ‘you have a friend in me,’” Maldonado said.
No one could have guessed the friendship would span not only their shared time in high school, but also two years at Laramie County Community College, two more years of college in opposite time zones, and now more than a decade in journalism’s stratosphere.
Melchior writes editorials for The Wall Street Journal after a stint as a writer for The National Review and a few other stops reporting from around the world. Maldonado works a few floors away as the associate editorial page editor at the New York Post. The two best friends from Cheyenne have landed professionally at the News Corp Building at 1211 Avenue of the Americas in Manhattan.
“It’s been really cool,” Melchior said. “I love that we work in the same building. I’m lucky to have someone from high school to support and hang out with. We’ll have known each other basically half our lives.”
The journalism part wouldn’t have happened without the rigorous education they received at LCCC, including now-retired journalism instructor Roz Schliske. She ran a tight ship and demanded a lot of her students, setting a high standard of excellence at the Wingspan, the LCCC student newspaper.
Melchior and Maldonado acknowledge Schliske’s role in preparing them more than adequately
for the rigors of big-city journalism.
“I give her so much credit for our careers,” Maldonado said. “We took her class, got a C, and it felt like a gold star.”
As students, both women harbored different career ambitions. A die-hard sports nut,
Maldonado wanted to work as an athletic trainer for a Major League Baseball team,
while Melchior sought a career in forensic pathology. The two eventually cast their
respective lots with journalism at LCCC.
Enter Schliske, who gave the students a healthy dose of English grammar along with the basics of reporting and editing.
“She had the right idea about tearing it down to basics and pushing you as hard as she could,” Melchior said. “I was 18 years old, and I thought I really understood the English language, like I knew grammar. I don’t think I worked harder in my life.”
Schliske encouraged both women to pursue their journalistic dreams. Melchior had long-form story ideas from early on, including one that Schliske found intriguing.
“With Jillian…she’s a freshman just starting out writing, and maybe her second story she wants to do on arranged marriages in Colorado and Wyoming,” Schliske said. “Then we had the whole issue of people being anonymous, and I was skeptical. Do you really want to go down this road? How well do I know this reporter? I agreed to it, so Jillian went down to Colorado, interviewed people, and came back with an amazing story. I knew off the bat she had what it took to be an outstanding reporter.”
Melchior recalled that such a rigorous education in investigative journalism has stayed with her to this day.
“Roz really pushed me on investigative reporting as well, like how to write a public records request, how to cover a legislature, how to tear apart a budget,” Melchior said. “One thing she was extraordinarily good at was pushing us to have the right attitude. There’s no such thing as impertinent questions. I remember charging into meetings when we’d been shut out initially.
“At the same time, she was incredibly fair and kind. Not a day goes past where I don’t use something Roz taught me.”
Maldonado wanted to cover the LCCC men’s basketball team, so Schliske prepared her for what women faced in the male-dominated world of sports journalism.
“Elisha was a sports nut,” Schliske said. “She wanted to cover sports and you know that’s not easy for a woman to do. They were both just go-getters.”
The two continued their educations beyond LCCC, though Schliske said she tried to
give her students all the tools they needed in two years. If students had to enter
the world of work right away, they were ready; if they transferred to a four-year
college, they were over-prepared.
“I have been accused of—and I plead guilty to—cramming four years of journalism into two years,” Schliske said.
Melchior went on to Hillsdale College in Michigan, while Maldonado landed at San Jose State University in California, pioneering an investigative team at the campus daily newspaper. Maldonado said she received serious praise from day one thanks to what she learned at LCCC.
“It was the best education I could have gotten,” Maldonado said. “When I got to San Jose State, my professors said I was better equipped as a journalist than a lot of the other students. One of my profs asked me to help edit his book.”
The two credit LCCC for sparking their careers by way of going for what they wanted in terms of jobs and other opportunities.
“Jillian and I were very persistent,” Maldonado said. “We really knew we wanted to
have great careers so we set up goals and markers for ourselves.
“I started freelancing for the Heartland Institute, mostly on healthcare and education reform in addition to the college paper. Jillian got a couple internships as well. She was so good, such a great journalist, always got what she went for. I talked my way into jobs.”
Maldonado talked her way into a copy editor position at the Bay Area News Group, a consortium of five newspapers in the San Francisco Bay Area, by telling an editor, “I know you’re looking for a copy editor, and you’ll not find anyone better than me.”
Melchior said winning one of nine fellowships in the Roy W. Howard National Collegiate Reporting Competition from the Scripps Howard Foundation in 2006 really launched her career, but only after her mentor strongly encouraged her to apply for it.
“You get to go to Japan and South Korea and study newsrooms,” Melchior said. “Roz wouldn’t let me get away with not applying, and I got it. She wanted to turn out journalists that could compete with anyone anywhere.”
To get to the New York Post, Maldonado mined connections from that great American post-adolescent tradition—a road trip with your bestie. In 2008, their last year of college, they decided to go networking.
“We were going to go to journalists we respected for advice,” Maldonado said.
The pair traveled to New York, Detroit and Washington, D.C., meeting with, among others, former President George W. Bush speechwriter Bill McGurn, a member of the editorial board at the Journal. The chat yielded connections such that when McGurn had gone to the Post and had an opening, Maldonado had an “in.” This August, she’ll mark five years with the Post.
While serving an internship at the Detroit News, Melchior met James Taranto, a longtime
Journal editor. Over a shared love of cigars, Taranto encouraged her to apply for
the Bartley Fellowship on the editorial page of the Journal, which she earned and
served in the summer of 2009. Melchior then returned to Asia to live and report for
several different outlets over the years, including as a Robert Novak Fellow for The
Phillips Institute and as a Blankley Fellow at the Steamboat Institute, keeping in
touch with Taranto all the while and contributing freelance pieces.
Melchior was hired on at the Journal full-time in July 2017, and while she focuses on informed opinion writing, it’s informing her opinion with reams and hours of research that satisfies her yen for investigations.
“The Journal’s cool in that the editorial page breaks news. Sometimes we scoop the news reporters. A lot of other places are reactive to the news and the Journal’s in the mix of things,” she said. “We also have heavy focus on reporting. The persuading is fact-based. It’s not uncommon to do public records requests, do a dozen interviews for a column. The investigative journalist in me is very happy with that.”
Given that two of her star pupils have hit a pinnacle of journalism, Schliske looks on like a proud parent.
“There’s a point when they’re always in contact with me, they need my advice about stuff, then they don’t call me so much about advice, they just call to visit,” Schliske said. “Then I know I’ve done my job when they don’t need my advice.”
Melchior frequently appears on TV to comment on the news of the day. In addition to her commentary, Melchior said she will not pass up the chance to advocate for community colleges in a field packed with four-year degree earners.
“The value of community colleges is you don’t get bang for your buck like that anywhere else,” Melchior said. “I think of it fondly, lots of gratitude for the teachers I had there. I don’t think Elisha or I would be where we are if it weren’t for that experience.”
Both women said they use daily what they learned at the Wingspan. They credit Schliske heavily for having risen through the ranks and view their time under her tutelage with great affection.
“If I didn’t hear that, I would be very mad at myself,” Schliske said. “But I’ve never
had anybody say they regretted the hard work they had to do.”
Meanwhile, the two Cheyenne natives live the dream each day, crossing paths frequently in the News Corp building, getting coffee, going to the gym, and marveling.
“Our first time in New York City was a Wingspan trip, and I was totally blown away,” Melchior said. “We were walking around Central Park, talking about our goals in journalism. We’re the same two people with the same two goals. Can’t beat that.”
“Jill and I support each other’s careers,” Maldonado said. “We’re in the same building four or five floors apart. It’s like, we did it, old girl.”