Coffee with Cool Women features St. Louis Post-Dispatch reporter

Imagine talking to the person directly, or indirectly, responsible for the death of a child, and publishing that conversation for hundreds of people to read.

St. Louis Post-Dispatch reporter Nancy Cambria discusses her career as a journalist during the first Coffee with Cool Women event of the spring semester. Photo by Kari Williams

That is just one facet of Nancy Cambria’s job as a child and families reporter for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

Cambria, who has worked at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch for seven years, said the story she is most proud of was when she investigated how many children were dying in unlicensed and unregulated home daycares in Missouri. As a result of the story, Missouri law was changed and an awareness campaign was created.

“That was a highpoint,” said Cambria, who spoke last week as part of the Women’s Studies program’s Coffee with Cool Women series.

The hardest aspect of working on that story, according to Cambria, was talking to the childcare providers who had children die in their care. She tried to make three phone calls a day for two months.

“If you want to talk to the most devastated, guilt-ridden people, it’s a caregiver who had a child die in their care…,” Cambria said. “Most of those calls were like dead silence, ‘How did you get my name?’ Then crying.”

In working on the story, Cambria said she had to have “a lot of patience” because she “could’ve written a tear-jerker.” She instead looked at the weak child care regulatory system that was in place and what it was about the system that failed children.

When Cambria first took the child and families beat, she thought it would be a “parent beat,” but it is more about keeping government systems and policies accountable and in the best interest of children and families, she said.

Cambria said her role is to give a voice to the voiceless.

However, her original career choice was short story writer. After graduating college, Cambria said she waited tables for two years before, at the urging of her mother, she began working for the SandPaper, a weekly newspaper on the Jersey Shore. She had previous experience with her college paper and literary magazine, but had no formal journalism training.

“I really had to work my way through it,” Cambria said.

Cambria said it is an honor to sit in someone’s home and have them tell you their story – and that being able to talk to people is a skill women inherently have.

She also noted that in journalism women have to be “as assertive as ever.” When she first started at the Post-Dispatch, she was temporary employee and worked “really hard” for two years to establish herself.

In separating work life from her home life, Cambria said it is just something she does, but that it was not always easy to do. With the daycare series, for example, she said she did a lot of running to release the emotions she felt while working on the story.

“I have two boys, and just go into another mode all together [after I leave the office],” Cambria said.

Women’s Studies program director Catherine Seltzer said Cambria’s talk was “terrific.”

“I really thought that after listening to her our students had a great sense of what the work of being a journalist involves,” Seltzer said, “not just the hard work and the intelligence and the vision of a story. But really, she talked a lot about human compassion and listening and the challenges of that.”

Sophomore secondary English education major Victoria Mizel said she appreciated Cambria’s honesty and openness.

“I thought that it was cool to see someone whose job and whose passion were interwoven,” Mizel said. “And I thought she was really engaging.”

Cambria’s story, according to Seltzer, “really reflected the spirit of the Coffee with Cool Women series.”

“She changed directions a couple times, she realized what her strengths were that often weren’t the ones she envisioned for herself,” Seltzer said, “and that’s how so many of our career paths go not  matter what the field.”

The next Coffee with Cool Women session will be at noon at Peck Hall 3407 on Feb. 11 with entrepreneur Bev George. To attend the event, contact Seltzer at

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