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Utah journalists to students: Write, shoot, tell compelling stories

By Bonnie Phelps

LOGAN–Professional journalists gave USU journalism students hope for the future during an informal panel Friday morning at the campus Eccles Conference Center.

After addressing her concern about the lack of positions available for journalists and the low pay they receive, Safiyyah Ballard was offered some encouragement.

“It’s actually a great time to be going into journalism even though print is crumbling,” Josh Loftin of City Weekly said. “The reason for that is because it’s being reinvented.”

The panel was part of the JCOM Department’s Career Day 2010, which included morning panels by 12 media professionals—one for print and Web students and another for broadcast journalists—and afternoon one-on-one mentoring and critique sessions.

Loftin and the four other journalists participating on the panel all agreed that the three things a student needs to be competitive in the journalism market today are the ability to shoot video, photos and write a compelling story.

After discussing the changes in print and the tough market for journalists, Ballard asked, “How are you getting paid?”

“You make enough to survive,” Joe Dougherty of the Deseret News said with a smile. “I support a family of four. We have a mortgage, and you know, we bought Lagoon season passes this year, so there are a few luxuries.”

All the journalists agreed that there isn’t a lot of money to be made as a reporter, but they didn’t get in this business for the money, they said.

One student asked if the trend toward reporters working from home instead of the newsroom was affecting content. Emilie Wheeler, city editor for the Herald Journal, said she didn’t think it made a diference. “I think there’s still accountability, because no matter what, you’re sending your story into an editor, and if it’s not good you’re in trouble,” Wheeler said.
Loftin said that he doesn’t like to see a reporter who is always in the newsroom, because that means they aren’t out getting stories. “If you aren’t doing your stories, it’s obvious to whoever’s watching,” Loftin said.

Dougherty works from home almost full-time. “If anything, I feel like I’m a better writer alone right now,” Dougherty said. He said there are a lot of distractions in the newsroom that he avoids when he works from home.

Kristen Moulton of the Salt Lake Tribune also works from home, and she agreed with Dougherty. “I don’t feel bad when I put a load of laundry in the washer because I know that I would be wasting time gossiping if I was in the newsroom,” she said.

Moulton suggested that a journalist who is just starting out should work in the newsroom. She said that she missed out from working remotely when she first started. “Don’t miss out on the atmosphere if you’re a new journalist,” Moutlon said. “I did miss so much those first two years working remotely.”

Loftin said that they require their interns at City Weekly to come into the newsroom because there is a lot to be learned from the more experienced reporters.